Across Southeast Asia, Ripple Effect of Attacks on US ; Several Nations Take Steps to Boost Security, While Appealing for US Restraint on Possible Military Action

Article excerpt

The international dragnet is now turning up new evidence of Asian links to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization, underscoring the breadth of his operations.

* A captured Philippine rebel leader on Monday named Mr. bin Laden as a financier of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim fundamentalist group. The Abu Sayyaf has been holding a US missionary couple and 16 Filipinos hostage for several months.

* Muslim Malaysia pledged cooperation in fighting terrorism as it came under scrutiny over a report that one of the hijack suspects in the airliner that hit the Pentagon had been caught on a surveillance tape in Kuala Lumpur, meeting a man linked to bin Laden.

* About a dozen followers of bin Laden, suspected of having masterminded last week's devastating attacks on New York and Washington, may have entered Japan from Pakistan just days before the assault.

* Days before the Sept. 11 plane-hijacking assaults, police in the Philippines took three men "of Middle Eastern origin" in for questioning, after they were found videotaping the US Embassy in Manila.

Bin Laden's long-standing ties to Islamic fundamentalist and separatist groups in countries including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore are bringing the global investigation into last week's grand-scale terrorism into the heart of Southeast Asia.

In a developing region where many trouble spots are defined - at least in part - by Muslim-Christian tensions, Muslim resentment of domination by pro-Western governments, and political or territorial secessionism beneath the banner of Islam, several Southeast Asian groups have in the past been open about their connections, at the least, with the same ideological and territorial ground as bin Laden.

From the Abu Sayyaf ("master of the sword") extremists in the southern Philippines to the Laskar Jihad in Indonesia, the leaders of several of the region's Islamic militias received training in Afghanistan, as mujahideen fighting Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s.

All of Asia's leaders - including reclusive North Korea - condemned the massive loss of life in Tuesday's attacks. But the leaders of countries with large Muslim populations, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, appear to be shying away from support for massive military retaliation. Even pro-American Thailand warned yesterday that the US should not "jump the gun" on its response, until investigators can ascertain who is responsible.

Meanwhile, the ripple effects of last week's harrowing assaults are being felt across Asia, where US citizens and military personnel are on high alert amid continuing fears of follow-up or reprisal attacks. In Macau, a Portuguese-ruled enclave that reverted to Chinese control in 1999, government officials have arrested five Pakistani nationals. They reportedly

had, in their luggage, instructions to hit American targets in Macau and Hong Kong if US forces launch attacks on Afghanistan.

The US consulate in Hong Kong, which has jurisdiction over Macau, closed indefinitely yesterday. No officials could be reached to confirm whether those detained were linked to bin Laden.

But seemingly few goings-on in Asia at the moment are not. In Tokyo, securities officials are investigating reports, which surfaced on Friday, that investors working on behalf of bin Laden engaged in massive short-selling of stocks and futures contracts before the attack. Such trades could have brought huge profits.

Political experts and security officials say that while it would be wrong to try to link every Muslim militant group in the region with bin Laden, it would be equally foolish to overlook the likelihood that he has given more to this part of the world than religious inspiration. …