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Two charged in Malaysia over al Qaeda links

Two Malaysian men were arrested today for having suspected links to a branch of al Qaeda, police said.

The arrests follow as the moderate Muslim country attempts to sever a connection between some of its citizens and Islamist militants in Syria.

The scrutiny comes after two Malaysians were arrested last October in Lebanon for trying to make their way to Syria to join a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, where al Qaeda-linked militants are taking an increasingly prominent role.

The two men, aged 33 and 49, were brought before a lower court in the Malaysian capital where they were charged with joining the Tanzim al Qaeda Malaysia group between August last year and February.

"There appears to be a connection between these Malaysians and what is happening in Syria. We don't want it to spread," a high-ranking police source told Reuters. He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The judge fixed the next hearing for June 7.

Both of the men were arrested and charged in February on charges of inciting terrorist acts in Syria from Kuala Lumpur.

They were released last week along with an accomplice after the High Court said the charge was a misuse of the court process and unconstitutional, media reported.

One of them, Yazid Sufaat, a biochemist and former army captain, was imprisoned under Malaysia's internal security laws in 2001 for seven years on suspicion of being a part of the Jemaah Islamiah militant network.

The al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah was behind a series of bomb attacks in Southeast Asia, including nightclub attacks in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people in 2002.

Yazid, who was released in 2008, was suspected by Malaysian and U.S. authorities of providing lodging for two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers and helping convicted Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui with money and references.