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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 10:27 GMT
Death penalty for three Malaysians
al-Ma'unah cult member
The convicted men remained calm during sentencing
Malaysia's High Court has sentenced three members of a Muslim cult to death by hanging.

Sixteen other members of the group, convicted on Thursday of treason for plotting armed rebellion, have been given life sentences.

Passing sentence, Judge Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin said the consequences for Malaysia would have been unimaginable if the members of the al-Ma'unah cult had succeeded in toppling the government and replacing it with an Islamic state.

Mohamed Amin Mohamed Razali
Mohamed Amin Mohamed Razali: Martial arts fanatic
The three men facing execution are the cult leader Mohamed Amin Mohamed Razali and two followers, Zahit Muslim and Jamaludin Darus.

Policemen ringed the dock as the sentence was read to the convicted men. All 19, each wearing a white skull cap, remained calm but many of their relatives broke down.

Defence lawyer Karpal Singh expressed shock at the death sentences. "We expected life imprisonment. The circumstances did not warrant the death penalty," he said.

Mr Karpal said an appeal would be lodged against both the sentences and the convictions.

Jungle shoot-out

Mohamed Amin Razali, a martial arts expert, and his followers believed mystical powers protected them from harm.

Members of Al-Ma'unah training
Al-Ma'unah members are taught they are protected from harm
In July last year, they posed as army officers to steal more than 100 rifles and large quantities of ammunition from two bases.

The group also took hostages, two of whom were killed, before the men were captured following a jungle shoot-out in northern Perak state.

The defendants were charged with waging war against the king, the country's constitutional head of state.

Six members were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment last December, on the lesser charge of making preparations to wage war.

Attorney General Mohtar Abdullah alleged that al Ma'unah members had also been involved in other violent incidents.

These included an attempted attack on a power installation in Perak, and grenade attacks on a brewery in Kuala Lumpur and a Hindu temple at the Batu Caves - a popular tourist destination just outside the city.

Two-thirds of Malaysia's 23 million people are Muslim, and such cases of religious extremism are rare in the country.

Al-Ma'unah described itself as a self-defence army for suppressed Muslims.

See also:

06 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian gunmen surrender
05 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian arms gang attacked
04 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian arms gang take hostages
07 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia jails six for treason
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