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Terror suspects plead innocence

Reporters try to interview terror suspect Rafiqul Eslami (centre) following a hearing at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. Photo by: Pha Lina
Three men appeared in Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday to face
terrorism charges stemming from threatening letters that were allegedly
sent to the American, Australian and British embassies last April.

The
three were charged last June under the Kingdom’s Anti-terrorism Law for
allegedly signing a letter that threatened to attack the three
embassies and identified the senders as members of the al-Qaeda
terrorist organisation.

Rafiqul Eslami, a 42-year-old
Bangladeshi national and former owner of a restaurant in the capital’s
Chamkarmon district, broke down and cried during questioning Tuesday,
denying the allegations against him.

“I have never had any dispute with any customers or business partners,” he said.

“I
was friendly to all customers and people here … and I didn’t write any
letter that attacked the embassies like in the allegations.”

Miah
Muhammed Huymayan Kabir, a 62-year-old Bangladeshi national, also
pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charge. The third suspect, DP
Paudel, a 44-year-old Nepalese national who faces charges of terrorism
and illegally living in Cambodia, was not questioned at the hearing due
to time constraints.

Throughout his testimony Tuesday, Eslami
claimed he had been framed by people who wanted to extort money from
him following the sale of his restaurant.

Muong Sokun, a
defence lawyer representing Eslami, added: “If you really wrote a
letter threatening the three embassies, would you dare to include your
name and signature so that police could arrest you?”

As Eslami was escorted out of the courtroom by police, he screamed a final plea for help.

“I didn’t write that kind of letter, please assist and help me,” he said.

According
to Dun Vibol, the defence lawyer for Miah Muhammed Huymayan Kabir,
Eslami was taken to the Ministry of Interior following his arrest last
year, where he took a signature test that linked him to the letters.

Dun
Vibol claimed that Eslami then told the police that the handwriting on
the letters was similar to that of Kabir, leading to the 62-year-old’s
arrest.

Kabir also claimed he had not signed the letter, though he admitted to being involved in a dispute with Eslami.

“I
didn’t write the letter and the letter doesn’t belong to me, but I
acknowledge having a verbal dispute with [Eslami] … over borrowing
money,” he said.

Presiding judge Sin Visal said representatives
from the American, Australian and British embassies were in attendance
at Tuesday’s hearing.

The United States embassy declined to
comment on the case, citing security reasons. Lesley Saunderson, the
deputy head of mission at the British embassy, also declined to comment.

If
convicted on the terrorism charges, the suspects could receive between
five and 10 years in prison. Their trial will resume on January 21.

Phnom Penh Post
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Categories: Local News
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