Government  should end the month-long short-sighted media policy where Malaysians have to scour the foreign media for news about al Qaeda operatives, links and activities in Malaysia and Southeast Asia as they are blacked out in local media

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Sunday): A week ago, I suggested that the first task of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in carrying out the duties of the Prime Minister during the month-long leave of  Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad  was  to instruct the police to introduce a “smart” media policy and to end the discrimination against Malaysians  where the international media was  inundated almost daily with reports about al-Qaeda investigations  in Malaysia but which were  censored by the local press inside the country.

I reiterate my call to  the government to end its month-long short-sighted media policy where Malaysians have to scour the foreign media every day for news about al Qaeda operatives, links and activities in Malaysia and Southeast Asia, whether in the US dailies like New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Asian Wall Street Journal,  International Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, or international news agencies like Reuters, Associated Press, AFP  or the weekly magazines like Time and Newsweek as they are blacked out in the local media.

Although these US media reports about al Qaeda operatives, links, activities in Malaysia and Southeast Asia had rightly been  faulted for their slant, bias and even exaggerations, the ineluctable fact is that they contained mass of information which emanated not only from US intelligence sources  but also from official Malaysian government sources which are relevant and pertinent - and which Malaysians are entitled to know about instead of being kept in the dark with a virtual blanket ban in all local mass media.

The latest such example is the report from Manila that Malaysia was the source of funding for the series of bombings in the Philippines capital on December 30, 2000 that killed 22 people - according to a sworn affidavit by an al-Qaeda operative Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi,  who had moved between Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore without detection for years.    Al-Ghozi was arrested in Manila on  January 15 and is implicated in the alleged plot by Jemmah Islamiah to set off seven simultaneous explosions in Singapore,  including the US, British, Israeli and  Australian embassies in the city republic.

The Los Angeles Times of February  7, 2002 under the heading “Officials say al-Qaida is Branching”  reported from Washington and quoted US intelligence as naming Malaysia as one of the countries al-Qaeda operatives fleeing from Afghanistan may have received “safe haven or support”.

Quoting US government officials as saying that evidence dating before Sept. 11 shows that al-Qaida sympathizers have reached out to non-Arabic Muslim populations seeking new recruits of different Asian and European ethnicities whose accent or appearance might not draw suspicion, it said:

“U.S. authorities also believe al-Qaida-linked extremists have made contacts with sympathetic extremists in other regions of the world with large Muslim populations and historical anti-American sentiment.

U.S. intelligence believes al-Qaida-linked extremists fleeing from Afghanistan may receive safe haven or support in a number of regions, including Palestinian refugee camps; the Hezbollah-dominated areas of Lebanon; Yemen; Somalia; southern Sudan; Chechnya; the former Soviet republics near Afghanistan; Malaysia; Indonesia, and the Philippines, the officials said.”

On February 7, the Washington Post and  New York Times  carried reports of an interview with one Mohamed Sobri, described as one of the 37 who were arrested last year by the Malaysian police  for their involvement with Kumpulan Militant Malaysia (KMM) but who was released after 73 days, on the origins and early activities of the al Qaeda-linked cells and his associations with, according to the Inspector-General of Police,  the “three directing figures” of the regional terrorist networks.

It is clear that such an interview, held in Sungai Manggis, Selangor, was arranged through the Malaysian police, another instance of the month-long government media policy of discriminating against  Malaysians resulting in  the international media being  inundated almost  daily with reports about al-Qaeda operatives, links, activities and investigations  in Malaysia but which are  censored by the local media.

The time has come for the Malaysian government and police to come out with a full and frank report to Malaysians about the al Qaeda operatives, links, activities and investigations in Malaysia, which should respond to the avalanche of foreign media reports on the subject in the past month, either confirming or rebutting them, as the first step to gain Malaysian support in the fight against terrorism is for the government to take the citizens into its confidence with as full and frank account of the subject as is permitted by security considerations.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman