Officials arrest Indonesian cleric linked to Bali blast

Sunday, October 20, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The spiritual leader of a militant Islamic group linked to al-Qaida was arrested in his hospital bed Saturday as police accused his fugitive top aide of responsibility for many of Indonesia's terrorist bombings.

Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil stopped short of directly accusing Abu Bakar Bashir of organizing the bloody nightclub attack last week in Bali, but said it was unlikely that he would not have known about many of the country's bomb attacks.

Matori blamed the nightclub attack on al-Qaida "and its internal network" -- a reference to Bashir's organization, Jemaah Islamiyah.

A pair of bombs exploded Oct. 12 outside a Bali nightclub jammed with tourists, setting off a conflagration that left at least 183 people dead and more than 300 injured.

Matori said planning for many bombings in Indonesia fell to Bashir's long-time right-hand man, a militant known as Hambali who is wanted by security agencies across Southeast Asia.

"A lot of information and the progress of our intelligence work confirm that Hambali is Abu Bakar Bashir's vice chairman," Matori said. "Hambali is a terrorist from Indonesia. He's always been mentioned by those who did bombings in the past as their commander."

"It is illogical if Abu Bakar Bashir says that he doesn't know about the bombings in Indonesia," Matori added.

Bashir and Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, are accused of running Jemaah Islamiyah, a shadowy group that seeks to create a pan-Southeast Asian Muslim state and is believed to be al-Qaida's main ally in the region.

Hambali is also accused of arranging a meeting of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers and al-Qaida operatives in Malaysia in January 2000. His whereabouts are unknown.

Bashir, 64, has been hospitalized since Friday with breathing problems. Police arrested him Saturday in the hospital in his hometown of Solo -- and later accused him of feigning illness, dispatching a team of police doctors to examine him.

"He might be pretending," National Police spokesman Gen. Saleh Saaf said.

Bashir was arrested Saturday for a series of church bombings across Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000, in which 19 people died. He has previously denied involvement in those attacks as well as the Bali bombings -- and insists the CIA invented Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaida as an excuse to persecute Muslims and foment religious violence.

Bashir is likely to be released from Muhammadiyah Hospital in two days, doctors said. Police officials told reporters that questioning would be postponed until then.

It was unclear what would happen to Bashir afterward, but options include confining him to his home and the hospital in Solo or taking him to a police hospital in Jakarta.

Several dozen riot policemen were posted at the hospital to prevent Bashir's students from mounting street protests.

Indonesia, which long turned a blind eye to Bashir and Jemaah Islamiyah, fearing an extremist backlash, was pressured into the crackdown by other nations following the Bali bombings.

Warning of new attacks, Australia urged its citizens to leave Indonesia. The United States, which has evacuated 350 diplomats and dependents, advised Americans to put off travel to the country.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, slow to act against religious militants in the past, on Friday rammed through emergency measures by decree. It was made retroactive to cover those responsible for the Bali bombing.

The decree allows for suspects to be detained for up to six months without charge, with a judge's approval, and authorizes the death penalty for terrorists.

Police Brig. Gen. Edward Aritonang said in Bali that investigators had questioned 67 people in connection with the nightclub blasts, but that there were no formal suspects.

But Saaf said police were focusing their investigation on eight people, seven Indonesians and one foreigner.

More than 100 investigators from Australia, the United States, France, Germany and Japan are working in Bali.

The identification and repatriation of the remains has crept along with painful slowness for family members. Only 47 bodies have been identified.

Australians top the lists of dead and injured. The first body of an Australian -- Angela Golotta, who would have turned 20 on Thursday -- arrived home Saturday. Her uncle heckled Prime Minister John Howard during his visit to Bali, demanding he speed the repatriations.

Bashir was targeted by authorities after a team of Indonesian investigators returned from questioning Omar al-Faruq, an alleged al-Qaida operative in Southeast Asia who was arrested in Indonesia and turned over to the United States in June.

Al-Faruq implicated Bashir in the church bombings and Jemaah Islamiyah. Bashir says he does not know Faruq.

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