Activities could spill over into SAR, warns expert

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 12:00am

Sipah-e-Sahaba's claims of a network of supporters in Hong Kong bring the scourge of terrorism right to the territory's doorstep.

Links have been reported between the group and Ramzi Yousef, the terrorist who tried to destroy New York's World Trade Centre with a car bomb in 1993 and plotted to blow up two US passenger jets flying from Hong Kong in 1995.

Yousef, now serving a 240-year jail sentence in Colorado for masterminding the explosion under the twin towers, has been identified as a foot soldier of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is believed to be behind the September 11 attacks which destroyed the landmark skyscrapers.

Yousef was attracted by Sipah-e-Sahaba's virulent hatred of the West and also by the Sunni Muslim group's battle against Shi'ite Muslims in the Pakistan province of the Punjab, funded by money flowing from Saudi Arabia.

Yousef had been an active member of the terror gang whose links to bin Laden are so strong that it promised to provide him with 10,000 armed men after the US fired missiles at his camp in 1998, according to British journalist Simon Reeve.

Sipah-e-Sahaba has strong links with the Taleban and bin Laden's al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, said Commodore Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in India.

Hundreds of Sipah-e-Sahaba fighters served alongside Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters in the defence of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, he said.

The fundamentalist Muslim group's terrorist activities and targeting of Shi'ite Muslims - a minority group in Pakistan - in its pursuit of the goal of establishing a Sunni state, could spill over to Hong Kong, said Commodore Bhaskar.

'This is something that the Hong Kong Government should be concerned about,' he said.

Both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims have lived and worshipped together peacefully in the SAR.

A Security Bureau spokeswoman sought to reassure SAR residents yesterday, saying the Government had no intelligence to suggest a terrorist support base existed here.

'Hong Kong remains a safe city and our security authorities are fully capable of keeping Hong Kong safe,' she said.

However, links between bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and the SAR have surfaced.

Wadih El-Hage, who has admitted working for bin Laden in the early 1990s, set up businesses in Africa for al-Qaeda and is believed to have traded gems for the group with Hong Kong dealers.

Another former employee of the organisation, Jamal Ahmed Al-Fadl, has told a US court that bin Laden and his network did business with a bank in Hong Kong, but did not identify the institution.

Sipah-e-Sahaba founder and leader Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi, killed in 1997, visited Hong Kong in 1994 and made a speech at the Kowloon Mosque, which is considered the main place of worship for Muslims in Hong Kong.

The group, at the centre of sectarian violence in Pakistan that has also seen Shi'ites attack Sunnis, has been involved in attacks on police in Pakistan.