HONK KONG, Nov 7: Two Pakistanis and an Indian-born American, who used Hong Kong as a venue to negotiate the purchase of four Stinger missiles for Al Qaeda, were arrested following a sting operation by FBI agents.

This is the first reported arrest in Hong Kong of persons with links to the Al Qaeda.

The three were detained on Sept 20 by the Hong Kong police in a hotel room as they tried to buy the portable missiles in exchange for which they would provide and distribute five tons of hashish and 600kg of heroin in the United States.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents posed as arms dealers, a court was told on Tuesday. The men, Pakistanis Syed Mustajab Shah, 54, and Mohammad Abid Afridi, and US citizen Ilyas Ali, 57, are contesting an extradition demand by the US.

They reportedly said that they would deliver the 1.5m-long missiles to the Al Qaeda.

The three, who had carried out previous negotiations on the missile purchase in the US and elsewhere, came to Hong Kong to close the deal.

The US government asked for their extradition on Oct 10. An extradition hearing will be held here on Nov 15.

Mr Bradley Allen, director of consulting at the security firm Pinkerton, told The Straits Times: “The sting operation began in some other country. It could have started six months or a year ago. The FBI chose to spring the trap in Hong Kong because of the jurisdiction.

“The Hong Kong police are very professional. There would be a hearing without corrupt judges.”

Commenting on the detained men’s activities here, a Security Bureau spokesman said yesterday: “There is no known terrorist infrastructure or support base in Hong Kong. The risk of Hong Kong becoming a target of terrorist attacks is low.

“However, given that Hong Kong is an international city, we do not rule out the possibility of terrorists or terrorist funding passing through Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong is known to have been used by terrorist suspects as a transit point for travel in the region.

A court hearing in the US last month revealed that five members of a suspected terrorist cell had flown here, intending to travel to Afghanistan from China.

So far, the Security Bureau has not unearthed any terrorist-related bank account. Nor is Hong Kong listed by the United Nations as a centre for terrorist finance.

A survey last month listed Hong Kong as the second-safest place, after Vietnam, among 14 countries and territories in the region.

Mr Allen said: “The security risk is low. There is no history of terrorist groups here. The police are professional and the immigration and customs authorities maintain control.”

Hong Kong has a small Muslim population of 70,000. More than half of them are ethnic Chinese while the rest have their roots in South Asia and South-east Asia.—The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

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