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Investigation into Bali blast moves forward

Indonesia's police Thursday announced they will call the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah for questioning.

By Special to The Christian Science Monitor / October 18, 2002



KUTA, INDONESIA

Authorities on three continents are becoming convinced that Al Qaeda is tied to the massive bomb blast last Saturday that shook the peace of Indonesian resort island Bali.

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The level of certainty ranges from "probably," being uttered by foreign officials like Australian Prime Minster John Howard, to the first tentative "maybes" from Indonesian officials like National Police spokesman Saleh Saaf.

Evidence pointing in that direction ranges from the date of the Bali attack – the second anniversary of the attack on the USS Cole – to information gathered by US and other intelligence agencies that a regional Al Qaeda linked terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), was seeking to hit targets in Indonesia.

Now, following the worst global terrorist attack since Sept. 11, Indonesia – which has the world's largest Muslim population – appears to be taking the dangers of its radical groups to heart. In a significant step Thursday, Indonesian police declared the spiritual leader of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir, a prime suspect in deadly church bombings across Indonesia in 2000. Although police said they will call Mr. Bashir in for questioning tomorrow, they noted that he was not yet a suspect in the Bali attack.

Still Thursday's announcement may signal that a bigger crackdown is on the way, analysts say.

The shift comes as the region was reminded Thursday that the storm is not past when two bombs destroyed a shopping complex in the Philippines city of Zamboanga, killing five Filipinos and wounding about 30. Philippines National Police officials say they believe the bombs were set by the Abu Sayyaf, a radical group with historic links to Al Qaeda.

Today, Indonesia's parliament is expected to issue an antiterrorism decree, which includes giving President Megawati Sukarnoputri emergency powers to hold terrorist suspects without charges.

Mr. Saaf says police are holding four Indonesian men in connection with the Bali attack, which left at least 180 dead. The detainees, according to Saaf, include an Indonesian who was a security guard at the Sari Club, the nightclub destroyed in the blast, and his brother.

While these men are suspected of being foot soldiers in the attack, foreign governments have focused on Bashir. US and regional intelligence officials have warned Indonesia for the past year that Bashir, who has lived openly in Indonesia, is a terrorist leader and that Indonesia could be the site of an attack.

Until now, Indonesia has resisted international pressure to arrest him, saying there is insufficient evidence. Privately, government officials say, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has feared a militant Muslim backlash if he is arrested.

The decision to call Bashir in for questioning follows a recent trip by Indonesian police investigators to Afghanistan, where they interviewed Omar al-Faruq, an alleged Al Qaeda agent in US custody.

Indonesian Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia is now convinced that Mr. Faruq worked with Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged leader of the JI. Saaf says officials are seeking 13 additional associates of Faruq as a result of his interrogation.

"There aren't any links yet between Al-Faruq and the Bali bombing," Saaf told a press conference Thursday. "However, the police will continually be investigating this matter."

Mr. Yudhoyono cautioned that Faruq, who's been in custody since early June, didn't tie the group to the bombing in Bali. Still, Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert and author, says Faruq told investigators that he arranged for $74,000 to be transferred from Saudi Arabian sheikh Abu Abdullah al-Emerati to accounts controlled by Bashir sometime earlier this year.

Faruq told investigators the money was to buy three tons of explosives from Indonesian military sources – a fairly easy proposition in Indonesia, where corruption is rife in the military, analysts say. C4, the explosive that experts say was likely used as the detonator of the car bomb that destroyed the Sari Club in Bali where most of the victims died, is in the arsenal of the Indonesian military.

Police in Bali said they had questioned a former Air-Force explosives expert, Lt. Col. Dedy Masruchin, as possibly linked to the attack. Colonel Masruchin, who is not a native Balinese, was discharged from the military for drug use last year, Air-Force spokesman Edy Harjoko told reporters Thursday.

Meanwhile, security forces have also begun going after what could be termed low-hanging fruit.

This week, the Laskar Jihad, a radical group responsible for scores of deaths in Indonesia's Maluku province, announced it was disbanding, and diplomats said the decision almost certainly came as a result of military pressure.

The group was believed to have close ties to disgruntled officers within the armed forces. On Wednesday, the leader of another radical group, the Islamic Defenders Front, that had terrorized bars and nightclubs for the past two years, was arrested.

Diplomats and Indonesian intelligence said the group had close links to the military, and business owners in Jakarta said it collected protection money in exchange for not attacking their establishments.

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