'Outlawed Malaysian group attempting comeback'  

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government has warned that it will crack down on followers of a local Muslim sect who try to revive the banned movement, news reports said on Sunday.

Deputy home minister Zainal Abidin Zin said former members of the Al-Arqam group have held secret meetings over the past five months in rural parts of Malaysia, where the movement flourished before the government banned it in 1994 for allegedly spreading heretical religious teachings.

"We do not know what their intentions are," Zainal was quoted as saying by the Sunday Star newspaper. "We do not want the outlawed movement to organize activities like what it did before it was banned years ago."

Zainal didn't elaborate on what form a crackdown would take, but police were monitoring the movement to ensure it is not revived.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government detained the movement's founder, Ashaari Muhamad, and 15 other top members for two months in 1994. They were released after they appeared on national television and claimed to have repented.

Authorities also disbanded communes run by the Al-Arqam sect, which owned supermarkets, factories and other businesses and claimed to have 100,000 members at the height of its popularity.

There were no reports of violence during the crackdown.

Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. More than 60 per cent of the Southeast Asian country's 23 million people are Muslims -mostly Sunni - and the government frowns on other sects and religious cults.

The government last week ordered the detention without trial of 10 men accused of belonging to an obscure Islamic militant group it says were plotting to overthrow Mahathir, who has led Malaysia for 20 years.

Those arrested, mostly members of a fundamentalist Islamic opposition party, have denied the claims and say the government is trying to discredit it by linking it to Muslim extremism. ( AP )