July 10, 2003
At least 200 Muslims protested in the streets of Malawi's capital last week, threatening to disrupt next year's elections if five suspected Al Qaeda militants taken from the country by the United States are not returned. A week prior, angry crowds had attacked an American children's charity and several churches. Eleven people were arrested then, after mobs in the predominantly Muslim district of Mangochi, east of Blantyre, had protested for two days. Presumably, the crowds are being goaded into action by Al Qaeda's sympathizers (even if only indirectly) and the mobs apparently take action after mosque services on Fridays.
Amnesty International had predictably criticized the United States for the snatch, even though none of the detainees were Malawian citizens. The operation was conducted with such secrecy by the Malawi National Intelligence Bureau that the Malawian High Court no knowledge the men were long gone when they ruled on June 23 that the government's deportation efforts were illegal and demanded prosecutors either charge the men or release them by the morning of the 25th.
On June 22, Malawi National Intelligence Bureau officials arrested five suspected Al Qaeda members: Saudi national Fahad al Bahli, Ibrahim Habaci from Turkey, Arif Ulasam also a Turkish national, Mahmud Sardar Issa from Sudan and Khalifa Abdi Hassan from Kenya. They were secretly handed over to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) the following day and flown out of the country to nearby Botswana on a chartered Air Malawi flight, where they immediately disappeared off of the media's radars. American officials remained tight-lipped on the whereabouts of these five suspects.
The men had been on the CIA's "watch list" since the twin 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which US authorities blame on Al Qaeda. Four men linked to the group were convicted in US Federal court in 2001 for their roles in those bombings. - Adam Geibel