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New Malaysia terror threat warning

Caution urged in East Africa

File photo of Abu Sayyaf rebels at a hideout in the southern Philippines.
File photo of Abu Sayyaf rebels at a hideout in the southern Philippines.

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A CNN Special Report by Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa 
War against terror: Southeast Asia front 

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing terrorist activities in Southeast Asia, the U.S. State Department has restated concerns of possible terrorist attacks against American citizens and interests in Malaysia, especially in the eastern state of Sabah.

Warnings were also issued for parts of East Africa, particularly Kenya which was the location of an al Qaeda-linked terrorist attack last November.

The alerts come in the wake of three near simultaneous strikes on housing compounds for Westerners in Saudi Arabia which killed 25 people.

The State Department advises U.S. citizens traveling to the islands and in the coastal areas of eastern Sabah to exercise extreme caution and to be aware of threats from the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group based in the southern Philippines. Sabah is close to the southern end of the Philippines.

Americans planning travel to that region are encouraged to call the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur before leaving.

The announcement supersedes the department's warning of November 20 last year. The current warning expires November 14.

The State Department also warned attacks similar to the October 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali, Indonesia, might occur in other Southeast Asian nations, including Malaysia.

Last October, the United States designated the Jemaah Islamiyah Islamic (JI) group a terrorist organization. JI is an extremist group linked to al Qaeda and other regional terrorist groups, according to the State Department.

JI cells operate throughout Southeast Asia. Since 2001, Malaysian authorities have arrested more than 80 JI members.

Malaysian police and military patrol the eastern coastal region and islands of Sabah. The Malaysian government also has small detachments in various locations, including the Malaysian islands of Sipadan and Pandanan, where armed gunmen kidnapped hostages in 2000, before taking them to islands in the southern Philippines.

But the State Department warned that the region is large and remote and that security help might not be readily available.

The U.S. warning comes two days after the Australian government renewed its warning to its citizens over the security situation in Indonesia.

Australia says it continues to receive intelligence concerning planned attacks on Westerners in the republic. (Full story)

'Credible threat' in East Africa

Americans were also urged by the State Department to defer all non-essential travel to Kenya because of the threat of terrorist attacks there.

U.S. citizens already in the country were warned to "remain vigilant," particularly in public places, and to avoid travel to coastal areas. Terrorists may try to target commercial aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles, the statement said.

Last November, suicide bombers attacked the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel on Kenya's Mombasa coast, killing 10 Kenyans and three Israelis, as a second group of terrorists tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane.

"The government of Kenya might not be able to prevent such attacks," the statement said. "Terrorist actions may include suicide operations, bombings or kidnappings."

In a separate warning for other parts of East Africa, the State Department said members of al Qaeda and other extremist groups "are active in East Africa" and that there is a "credible threat" of terrorist attacks in the region.

Increased security at official U.S. facilities may lead terrorists "to seek softer targets such as residential areas, clubs, restaurants, American commercial interests, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches and planes," the statement said.

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