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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 23:50 GMT
Syria restricts Islamic teaching
By Kim Ghattas
BBC, Beirut

Captain Yee
Capt Yee studied Islam and Arabic privately in Damascus
The Syrian authorities will no longer allow foreign students to study Islam in private schools.

From the next academic year foreigners will only attend classes at the Islamic law faculty of Damascus University, in the Syrian capital.

There are 20 Islamic schools operating in Syria under the supervision of the social affairs and labour ministry.

They cater to several thousand foreigners from the US, Japan, Britain and Indonesia among other countries.

Officially the Syrian government said it was taking measures against private Islamic schools because their degrees were not officially recognised yet.

But these institutes were always closely watched by the staunchly secular Syrian Baath regime and now it appears that things have been taken one step further.

Student suspicions

This comes after several Muslims arrested for alleged terrorist activities were found to have stayed in Damascus.

Capt James Yee, a Muslim military chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, who was arrested and then released last year after allegedly being caught with classified documents, had studied Islam and Arabic in Damascus in the mid-1990s.

And in April last year, Assaf Mohammed Hanif, a British Muslim blew himself up in a Tel Aviv pub.

He had studied Arab at Damascus University in 2000 and it is thought this is where he was recruited by the Palestinian group, Hamas.

There are about 3,000 foreigners studying in Syria.

While Damascus has been accused by the US administration of supporting radical Palestinian groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it has received praise for co-operating in the fight against al-Qaeda.

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