by Jeff Taylor
August 24, 2001
LOS ANGELES, August 23 (Compass) -- A Christian community center in Malaysia was set ablaze on July 21 by suspected Muslim extremists. The building was unoccupied during the alleged arson attack, reported local fire and rescue officials.
The early Saturday morning fire gutted the Marthoma Christian Community Center in Sungei Patani, a city located about 190 miles northwest of Kuala Lumpur in Kedah state on peninsular Malaysia. Damage to the center was estimated at 300,000 ringgits ($79,000).
Community center vice-president K.J. Abraham said the church had filed police reports on July 19 and 20 after building caretakers noticed that two windows had been broken and homemade petrol bombs were found near the premises. It was believed at that time to be the work of vandals.
However, police told church authorities that they believe members of the Malaysian Militant Group (KMM, or Kumpulan Militan Malaysia) are responsible for the fire. The KMM, an extremist Muslim jihad group whose members were reportedly trained in Afghanistan, have been accused of numerous armed robberies, an attack on a police station, the murder of a prominent politician, and fire bombings of a another church and a Hindu temple.
Since May, police have detained 16 suspected KMM members. Some have been held under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, which permits detention for 60 days before charges must be filed. Others have been charged, and at least one was placed under "restricted residence," according to an August 17 report in the "New Straits Times."
The "New Straits Times" reported on August 22 that Taufik Abdul Halim, a Malaysian being held in Jakarta, Indonesia, for his alleged involvement in the bombing of two churches and a shopping mall in the Indonesian capital, admitted he was a KMM member.
The Marthoma Christian Community Center was primarily used for community gatherings and Christian services. Since the fire, the congregation has been forced to meet in homes for Sunday morning services. Church members are reported to be "discouraged and demoralized" by the destruction of their building.
While church leaders have deemed the attack on the center an isolated event, some expressed fears that these types of attacks could become more frequent if Islamic fundamentalism, such as that practiced by the KMM, is allowed to grow unchecked.
Christians comprise about seven percent of Malaysia's 21 million people.
Copyright 2001, Compass News Direct. Used with Permission.