Terrorism trial begins for radical Muslim cleric

Indonesia arrests suspect identified as his successor

April 24, 2003|By Richard C. Paddock | Richard C. Paddock,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Abu Bakar Bashir, the accused leader of the Jemaah Islamiah terror network, went on trial on treason charges yesterday just as police arrested another terror suspect they identified as his replacement.

Police announced the arrest of 18 Jemaah Islamiah members, including little-known terror suspect Abu Rusdan, who was allegedly picked by Bashir to run Jemaah Islamiah after the militant 64-year-old cleric was arrested in October.

"He was given the authority after the arrest of Abu Bakar Bashir to lead Jemaah Islamiah," said Erwin Mappaseng, national police chief of detectives. "Since Bashir could not carry out his tasks, he appointed Abu Rusdan to fulfill the duties of Emir."

Also arrested was Nasir Abbas, alleged head of Jemaah Islamiah operations in parts of Indonesia and the Philippines. His brother, Hashim, was arrested in Singapore in 2001; he's alleged to have plotted to blow up the U.S. Embassy, and his brother-in-law, Ali Gufron, also known as Muchlas, was arrested last year on charges he organized the Bali bombing that killed 202 people.

Police Chief Dai Bachtiar said the 18 suspects were preparing to stage another attack when they were arrested, although police have not identified the target. Police said they seized weapons, explosives and detonators from the suspects during raids near Jakarta and on the island of Sulawesi.

Three of them allegedly took part in the Bali bombing.

Authorities say Jemaah Islamiah is affiliated with the al-Qaida terror network and has plotted bombings, murders and robberies in at least four Southeast Asian countries.

Jemaah Islamiah operatives are accused of carrying out the Bali nightclub bombing and a series of church bombings in Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 19. The group also is accused of killing more than 50 people in bombings in the Philippines, including two blasts in Davao City in recent weeks.

The organization's goal is to establish a Taliban-style Islamic state across much of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the southern Philippines. The group has been listed by the Bush administration as a terrorist organization.

Indonesia was slow to recognize the existence of the organization, but after the Bali bombing, police arrested Bashir, who earlier had been identified by other countries as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah.

Although several of Bashir's disciples allegedly played major roles in the Bali attack, investigators could not find sufficient evidence linking him to the bombing.

Bashir is charged with seeking to overthrow the government and replace it with an Islamic state. The indictment alleges that he gave his blessing to the Christmas Eve church bombings. It also accuses him of failing to maintain his Indonesian citizenship during 14 years of self-imposed exile.

Police say Bashir was in their custody in a Solo hospital when his son passed a message to Rusdan that he should take over the emir's duties. The son was not identified.

The recent wave of arrests began Friday, police said. Rusdan was arrested yesterday at 10 a.m. while the chief prosecutor was reading the 25-page indictment to Bashir.

Wearing his trademark white cap and robes, Bashir listened calmly to the allegations. More than 100 of his students and supporters packed the state meteorology department auditorium where the trial is being held.

Richard C. Paddock is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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