U.S. now afraid of its own shadow--Mahathir
Friday 16 May 2003
KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad mocked the United States on Friday for issuing travel warnings for its citizens, saying Washington had become "afraid of its own shadow".
The State Department has just renewed an advisory cautioning Americans living in or visiting Malaysia to beware of a terrorist threat from two Southeast Asian militant groups linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
It said visitors to islands and coastal areas of the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, on Borneo island, should exercise extreme caution.
Mahathir's comments, to a political rally in Sabah, come at a time when U.S.-Malaysian relations are already at a low ebb.
The United States threatened to withdraw its ambassador early this year after a speech by the veteran Muslim leader to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Kuala Lumpur.
In that speech, the prime minister drew parallels between the victims of the September 11 terror attacks on Washington and New York and anticipated civilian casualties in the looming Iraq war.
The White House reaction? "They were pissed (angry)," one U.S. official said.
At Friday's rally, the 77-year-old premier, who plans to step down in October after more than two decades in power, poured scorn on Washington.
"The U.S. states that Sabah is a terrorist haven. As such, (it) advises its citizens not to come here," Mahathir said.
"This is because they felt guilty as they have committed all sorts of actions like killing and oppressing others, and as such they're afraid of their own shadow, afraid to come here, afraid because they know there are many people in this world hating them," the state-run Bernama news agency quoted him as saying.
He said that the U.S. fear was like that of the vanquished Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who was afraid to leave his palaces without bodyguards.
The United States is Malaysia's biggest investor and the largest market for Malaysian goods, but that has not stopped the outspoken Mahathir attacking U.S. policies.