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Indonesia pressured to find those responsible for bombing

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesian officials interrogated a security guard and another man Tuesday about the deadly nightclub bombing in Bali and said traces of C-4 plastic explosives were found at the scene of the blast.

With Indonesia under increasing international pressure to combat terrorism, a violent Muslim group with ties to Indonesia's military disbanded -- the first apparent sign the government was getting serious about moving against Islamic extremism.

The announcement by the group, Laskar Jihad, came as the accused spiritual leader of another extremist network linked to the al-Qaida terror network said he would submit to police questioning.

Most of the nearly 200 victims of Saturday's blast were foreign tourists, and the grim toll prompted calls for Indonesia to crack down on al-Qaida terrorists and local allies blamed for the bombing. President Bush said Monday he planned to talk to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri about the need to stop terrorism.

"You cannot pretend it (terrorism) doesn't exist in your country," Secretary of State Colin Powell said, adding he hoped the attack "reinforces Indonesia's determination to deal with this kind of threat."

Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Saleh Saaf said police have questioned at least 47 people about the blast -- and that a security guard and another man were being "intensively interrogated." He denied reports the two had been arrested.

The second man was the brother of a man whose identification card was found at the blast scene, intelligence officers said on condition of anonymity.

Traces of the military explosive C-4 -- a puttylike plastic explosive used in the attack two years ago on the USS Cole in Yemen -- were found at the scene, National Police Chief Da'i Bachtiar said. Richard C. Reid, the alleged al-Qaida-trained shoe bomber thwarted on an American Airlines flight, packed explosive that appeared to be C-4 into his shoes.

In past cases in Indonesia, whenever C-4 has been found in any bombing it has been traced to the military, raising speculation the explosive was bought or stolen from military stocks.

Days after the explosion ripped through the jammed Sari Club, Bali was still struggling to cope with the corpses.

At the island's main hospital -- now largely used as a morgue -- dozens of volunteers cared for the bodies, icing them down or loading them into refrigerated containers to slow decomposition in the tropical heat. Australia, which lost dozens in the attack, was arranging for the bodies of its citizens to be repatriated.

Dozens of shoulder-high flower wreaths were left at the edge of the morgue, where hundreds of people waited, watched over by armed Indonesian soldiers.

Indonesia's intelligence chief, Mohamad Abdul Hendropriyono, told reporters his organization was cooperating with foreign agencies in the investigation.

"This attack has been well planned and it required expertise in handling high-tech (bombs)," he said. "It is a very complicated task and is outside the ability of local hands."

Megawati's government is in a delicate position -- looking for ways to prevent terrorism without sparking further attacks or unrest in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Laskar Jihad's dissolution is a relatively easy way for Jakarta to show its willingness to fight terrorism, and perhaps gain ground in its efforts to restart American military aid. The group is not suspected in the Bali bombings, but putting it out of operation gives the government much-needed public relations points amid accusations it has turned a blind eye to extremist violence.

In recent months, the activities of the group, which has deep ties to Indonesia's military, have become an increasing embarrassment for authorities.

As the Bush administration pushed to re-establish ties with the Indonesian military -- cut in 1999 in the wake of abuses in East Timor -- Laskar Jihad's military connection was cited by congressional critics as proof the military continued to represent the main threat to the country's fragile democracy.

Achmad Michdan, legal adviser to Laskar Jihad, which has waged sectarian warfare against Christians on the outlying Maluku islands, told reporters in Jakarta the group was disbanding.

Michdan insisted the decision was not connected to the bombing and was rooted in theological issues. "It is an internal matter," he said.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard said his nation would seek the listing of Jemaah Islamiyah -- a shadowy pan-Asian network believed linked to al-Qaida and suspected of involvement in the nightclub bombing -- as a terrorist organization.

Australian officials "have received indications from other countries ... that that move will be supported," he said in Parliament.

The suspected spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah said he would voluntarily submit to police questioning. Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir planned to meet with police Wednesday in Jakarta, said his brother Umar Bashir.

The meeting was in connection with a libel case Abu Bakar Bashir has filed against Time magazine, which recently published allegations that implicated him in other terrorist activities, his brother said. Abu Bakar Bashir has denied involvement in Saturday's blast.

Jemaah Islamiyah is believed to have four tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical that has been used to make bombs, purchased by a suspected Malaysian member accused of allowing two of the Sept. 11 hijackers to use his apartment in 2000.

Indonesia previously insisted there was no threat of violent extremism on its soil, despite the discovery of an al-Qaida-linked terror network in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

The shift came Monday after a Cabinet meeting, when Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil said: "We are sure al-Qaida is here."


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