Indonesia links Islamic group to blast

Under pressure from U.S., Jakarta moves to assert outfit practices terror

October 17, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JAKARTA, Indonesia - The Indonesian government, under pressure from the United States to act decisively against terrorism here, took a major step yesterday toward declaring a fundamentalist Islamic group, Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist organization.

For nearly a year, Indonesia has dismissed claims the organization was a threat, or even that it existed. But this week, several foreign governments said that they had strong reason to believe Jemaah Islamiyah was involved in the blast in Bali. At a news conference yesterday morning, Indonesia's minister for state security, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said Jakarta had to "respect and believe" assertions Jemaah Islamiyah was part of "an international terrorist network."

He added that Indonesia "cannot disagree" with the views of Singapore and Malaysia that Jemaah Islamiyah is a terrorist organization.

In another abrupt about-face, Yudhoyono conceded that the organization's leader is Abu Bakar Bashir, a 64-year-old preacher who runs an Islamic boarding school in central Java. Bashir, who expresses admiration for Osama bin Laden and loathing for Jews and the West, has steadfastly denied that any such group as Jemaah Islamiyah exists.

Yudhoyono also acknowledged for the first time publicly that another Indonesian cleric, Hambali, is a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah.

In a recent interview, Singaporean intelligence officials - who by nearly all accounts have the best dossier on Jemaah Islamiyah - said that Hambali was inducted into al-Qaida's inner circle, a rare occurrence for a non-Arab, and was the mastermind of several bombing attacks in Southeast Asia. It was through Hambali that Jemaah Islamiyah, which began as a religious movement in the 1970s, made common cause with al-Qaida in the 1990s, Asian and Western intelligence agencies say.

Philippine officials said yesterday that they plan to indict Hambali, who has been a fugitive for many months, on charges of illegal possession of explosives.

The indictment charges that in 2000, Hambali instructed another member of Jemaah Islamiyah to buy at least 5 tons of explosives to be used for the attacks on the American and Israeli embassies in Singapore last December. The attacks were thwarted by Singaporean police, but not all of the explosives were recovered, raising the possibility they might have been used in the Bali bombing.

Yudhoyono stopped short of saying that Indonesia was prepared to arrest Bashir, a step that the United States and other countries have requested, or declare outright that Jemaah Islamiyah is a terrorist organization. He said that the government would have to await the return of Indonesian intelligence officials who he said were on their way back from Pakistan after interrogating Omar al-Faruq, an admitted al-Qaida operative. Faruq told the CIA last month that Bashir was responsible for several terrorist attacks in Indonesia and was behind plans to blow up the American embassy there.

Faruq has been detained at the American base in Bagram, Afghanistan, since being picked up here by Indonesian intelligence and turned over to the United States in June.

Another senior Indonesian official explained yesterday evening that the government wanted to build political support in the country before cracking down on Jemaah Islamiyah. This would be easier, the official said, if it did not appear that the government was acting solely on what it had learned from the United States.

Yesterday, after meetings with Yudhoyono and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said he expected Jakarta to take some action "in the next week or so" on Jemaah Islamiyah or Bashir. Most of those killed in the blast last weekend were Australians.

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