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Malawi Riots Over U.S. Arrests

A U.S. children's organization and several churches have been targeted by a violent crowd protesting the secret removal from Malawi of five Muslim foreign nationals suspected of being al Qaeda agents.

Police said Saturday that 11 people had been arrested after angry mobs in the predominantly Muslim district of Mangochi, east of Blantyre, vandalized and looted the offices of the American charity organization Save the Children USA and at least seven churches.

Medical staff at Mangochi District Hospital said three people were injured during the violence.

"We are being targeted because we are funded by the Americans," said Justin Opuku, Save the Children USA Malawi Director.

Several computers, furniture, stationery and three of the organizations' vehicles were damaged.

Inspector General of Police Joseph Aironi said Saturday the angry demonstrators were not necessarily all Muslim residents.

"We believe the demonstrations, about which we were not informed, were infiltrated by thugs," he said.

At least five Roman Catholic churches, one Church of Central African Presbyterian and one Seventh Day Adventist church also were vandalized and looted.

A Catholic Church vehicle was stopped in the streets and set alight, and Bishop Allesandro Assolari, head of the regional Catholic church, had to be protected by armed police officers, police said.

Robin Diallo, the Malawi office director of the U.S. Information Service in Lilongwe, said no special warning had been issued by the U.S. State Department.

"There is a standing worldwide warning to Americans to take extra precautions," Diallo said.

The five men were accused of funneling money to Osama bin Laden's terror group and were arrested Sunday night in a joint operation involving the CIA and Malawi's National Intelligence Bureau.

Malawi authorities handed them over to U.S. officials Monday night. They were immediately flown to nearby Botswana on a chartered Air Malawi flight.

The men had been on the CIA's "watch list" since the nearly simultaneous 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. U.S. authorities blame al Qaeda for the attacks, which killed 231 people, including 12 Americans.

The current whereabouts of the five are not known, but lawyer Shabir Latif, who leads a five-man team defending the suspects, said the United States wanted to take them to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where other suspected al Qaeda suspects are held.

Authorities said the five included Mahmud Sardar Issa, a Sudanese who heads a charitable organization called the Islamic Zakat Fund Trust in Blantyre. Another was identified as Fahad Ral Bahli, of Saudi Arabia, the director of the Malawi branch of Registered Trustees of the Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Special Committee on Relief.

Arif Ulusam, another Turkish man and an Islamic scholar from Kenya were also among those flown out, authorities said.
By Raphael Tenthan