Al Qaeda 'behind Ambon and other conflicts'
SINGAPORE (CNN) -- Officials in Southeast Asia have attributed recent violence in Ambon, Indonesia -- where nearly 10,000 people have died in Muslim-Christian conflict since 1999 -- to al Qaeda operatives.
Intelligence officials in Southeast Asia say the clashes between Christians and Muslims on the former 'Spice Islands' are just one of several separatist conflicts fueled by the terror network blamed for the September 11 attacks in the Unites States.
Among the others are the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim separatist group in the Philippines, the KMM, a separatist group in Malaysia, Jemaah Islamiya in Singapore and Laskar Jundullah and Laskar Jihad in Indonesia.
Singapore's Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng say the group's local ambitions have a commonality that has attracted the attentions of al Qaeda.
"Many of these organizations in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia have had their own origins, their own history, their own records of violence and their own agendas, and yet, they were able to link up with the common cause with Islamic jihad," Wong told CNN.
"And somehow, the Al-Qaeda has been able to transmit the kind of sense of jihad to the local groups while enabling the local groups to keep their own agenda in causing problems to their own countries concerned," he said.
The separatist groups for their part vehemently deny the charges.
Still, investigators say in the early 90s, Muslim fighters from Southeast Asia were sent to Afghanistan for a baptism of fire.
Today, intelligence officials in the region say the training ground is Ambon, Indonesia -- where nearly 10,000 people have died in Muslim-Christian violence since 1999.
Officials have begun arresting members of two groups which bring Muslim fighters to Ambon.
In March, a member of Laskar Jundullah was arrested in the Philippines and last week, Indonesia arrested the head of Java-based Laskar Jihad (Holy Warriors).
Indonesian authorities have yet to press terrorist charges against Ja'far Umar Thalib, commander of the paramilitary group, and his incarceration has even elicited some government sympathy.
"The Indonesians understand what needs to be done (in regards to Thalib). I think it's a question of when and how and whether they are going to act as soon as possible or whether they are going to wait for the appropriate time," said Wong.
Contributing to the mixed messages coming from the Indonesian government, Vice President Hamzah Haz visited the detained commander arrested for inciting violence in the riot-torn Maluku islands.
Haz spent one and a half hours with Laskar Jihad group, which has been blamed for fueling sectarian violence in Maluku.
Thalib was detained on Saturday in connection with an attack on Christians in Soya village on April 28, which killed 13 people.
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