KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Thirty months ago, Malaysian authorities locked up Mohammad Iqbal Rahman as a top leader of an al-Qaida-linked Muslim extremist group. The U.S. government called him the terrorist network’s “primary recruiter and second in command.”

Now – after 2 years detention without charges or trial – Iqbal, once a suspected terrorist from the Jemaah Islamiyah group, prepares to go free. The government is deporting him as an “undesirable immigrant” to Indonesia, where he faces no charges or jail time.

Iqbal’s case has raised concerns about the future of scores of militant suspects jailed in Malaysia. His release also threatens to complicate already strained relations with the United States.

U.S. Embassy officials in Malaysia said they were following the case with concern, but declined to comment further.

American officials had routinely condemned Malaysia’s security law, which often was used to lock up dissidents. But the criticism was muted after President Bush welcomed the detention of militant suspects as part of the war on terrorism.

Iqbal, 46, was arrested in June 2001 at a mosque outside Kuala Lumpur, where he had been based since the mid-1980s, and the government ordered him detained for two years.

His arrest was not revealed until January 2002, when Malaysian and Singaporean police announced the first of scores of arrests of Jemaah Islamiyah suspects and a foiled plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy and other targets in Singapore.

Iqbal is accused of being a Jemaah Islamiyah leader who vowed to wage armed holy war to build a hardline Islamic state in Southeast Asia.

The State Department in January designated him a terrorist and blocked his assets, along with another reputed Jemaah Islamiyah leader, Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali.

Hambali was al-Qaida’s alleged operations chief in Southeast Asia and is accused of masterminding the Bali bombings that killed 202 people last year and a hotel bombing in Jakarta that killed 12 people in August. He has been in U.S. custody since being captured in Thailand in August.

At the time Iqbal’s detention was made public, officials also disclosed links between Hambali and senior al-Qaida operatives, including two Sept. 11 hijackers who used an apartment owned by former Malaysian army Capt. Yazid Sufaat, one of the jailed Malaysians, as a meeting place in 2000.

The order detaining Iqbal expired in August, and Home Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, now prime minister, did not renew it. No reason was given, though the possibility of bureaucratic bungling has been raised.

Instead, Iqbal was declared an “undesirable immigrant,” had his Malaysian permanent residency revoked and was handed to immigration officials for deportation.

About 70 other Islamic militant suspects are detained in Malaysia. The detention orders against several of them were renewed earlier this year. Orders against many others, including Sufaat, are due to expire in January.

The case also has drawn renewed criticism of the government’s use of its tough security law that lets it detain – and release – militant suspects at will, without ever having to bring them to court.

Veteran opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said detaining terrorist suspects under the security law rather than bringing them to trial has allowed the government to avoid being “frank and accountable” about allegations against them.

“Iqbal’s case highlights that all ISA (security) detentions are full of holes,” Lim said. “If he is innocent and can be sent back to Indonesia, why are these lower-ranking people still inside” prison?

The allegations against Iqbal relate more to fund-raising and fomenting extremism than bomb attacks. He is accused of recruiting Muslims to fight Christians in Indonesia’s restive Muluku province.

In August 2000, he became a senior leader of the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, an umbrella organization of fundamentalist Islamic groups headed by Abu Bakar Bashir, Jemaah Islamiyah’s alleged spiritual leader who is serving a prison sentence for treason.

Iqbal said this week his detention and deportation were unjust.

“I am neither a terrorist nor a sponsor,” he said in a statement from an immigration detention camp. “Islamic doctrines totally and unequivocally condemn any act of terrorism.”

Iqbal’s wife, Fatimah Zahrah Abdul Aziz, said Friday that she’s bought Iqbal a ticket to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta on Sunday, as ordered by the government.

A Malaysian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Friday that Iqbal was not a wanted man in Indonesia.

Indonesian police spokesman Col. Zainuri Lubis confirmed that, saying: “We do not plan to do anything special… . We do not have any criminal record on him.”

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