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Clues yet to emerge linking cleric to Bali bombs JAKARTA - Picking through the charred ruins of the Sari nightclub, Indonesian investigators and FBI agents must wonder if they will stumble across a clue to the Bali bomb that will lead them to the door of a bespectacled Islamic cleric. Four days ago the names of Abu Bakar Bashir and the Jemaah Islamiah (Islamic Community) -- of which some foreign intelligence agencies say he is the spiritual leader -- were little known outside Southeast Asia.
Now they have been printed and reprinted in newspapers around the world as possible suspects in Saturday's bomb blast and inferno at a popular Bali nightspot in which more than 180 people were killed. "One network of militants has produced all the Indonesian nationals so far suspected of links to al Qaeda," said a recent study of Jemaah Islamiah by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
Despite the speculation, however, no evidence has emerged to link Bashir or the shadowy Jemaah Islamiah to the world's deadliest strike since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The frail cleric with his wispy white beard and trademark skull cap has consistently denied he has any links to terrorism or knowledge of Jemaah Islamiah. He has blamed the United States for the Bali attacks.
"It was a brutal act. I condemn such actions," he said. At 65, Bashir spends much of his time teaching the tenets of Islamic sharia law and dispensing advice to the 2,000 students at his school, reached through a maze of narrow lanes in a suburb of Solo city, 500 km (310 miles) east of Jakarta. Bashir may run a religious school, he may have been harassed, jailed and fled into exile during the dictatorial rule of former President Suharto, he may be revered by his students, but he is no mild-mannered pastor.
He has openly voiced his admiration for al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Experts on Indonesia describe his writing and teaching as nothing if not inflammatory as he has advocated an Islamic caliphate stretching across Southeast Asia. Western intelligence authorities describe Bashir as the spiritual force behind Jemaah Islamiah. At his right hand they place Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and believed to be the operational brains behind the group.
The group is believed to have formed a structure in the 1970s with antecedents dating back to Muslim nationalist movements in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the ICG study said. Most of the these groups eager to see Indonesia emerge as an Islamic state were crushed or faded away in the 1960s as Suharto came to power.
It was in the early 1970s that Bashir, born in 1938 and of Yemeni descent like bin Laden, became active. He and another cleric, Abdullah Sungkar, rose to lead the Islamic Youth movement and then together began to proselytise in the main island of Java and in 1967 set up a radio station as part of their work. Four years later they founded a school, Al Mukmin, that now operates in Solo and intelligence sources say forms the heart of Jemaah Islamiah.
After voicing their defiance of Indonesia's constitution, the two were arrested in 1978, accused of circulating a book based on the teachings of the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood that urged Muslims to go to war against the enemies of Islam.

Renewed Crackdown

They were put on trial in 1982 and sentenced to nine years in prison for subversion. Released after their sentences were reduced on appeal later that year, reports say they spent two years organising their network before fleeing to Malaysia in 1985 after riots around Jakarta prompted a renewed crackdown by Suharto on the Islamic opposition.
From that safe haven, Bashir tried with scant success to recruit fellow Indonesians to join the mujahideen fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan and sent some followers to Pakistan. It was from these connections, intelligence sources say, that the group is believed to have acquired at least some rudimentary skills in guerrilla warfare.
After Suharto lost power in 1998, Bashir -- now at the centre of a group increasingly radicalised by its contacts with al Qaeda and mujahideen in the Middle East -- returned home. Among the hardcore militants believed to have joined Bashir's inner circle in Malaysia was Hambali. The Afghan war veteran is still on the run, his whereabouts a mystery and with reports placing him as far apart as Sumatra and Pakistan.
Terrorist experts say they believe Hambali's organisational skills would have been essential to enable a group such as Jemaah Islamiah to pull off the carefully planned and tightly coordinated Bali attack. Another key member of the network is Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, from east Java, who was arrested in Manila in January 2002 and convicted of illegal possession of explosives.
Philippine authorities say he confessed to bombings in Manila and planned attacks in Singapore that were foiled last December and which first focused attention on the network. Singapore pounced on members of the network, arresting as many as 34 in the ensuing months, although officials say more remain at large outside the country.
Singapore said the group had planned to load seven trucks with several tonnes of ammonium nitrate -- the agricultural chemical used in the 1991 Oklahoma City bombing -- to attack embassies and U.S. targets in the city state. A videotape outlining the plan was found in the ruins of the house of al Qaeda military chief Mohammad Atef after he was killed by a U.S. bomb late last year.
Singapore elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew openly charged that Bashir was the emir -- or commander -- of Jemaah Islamiah. Bashir hit back by suing Singaporean diplomats who had circulated the statement, and denied any links to the militants in Singapore.
When the case was thrown out of court last May on the basis that the diplomats had legal immunity, Bashir spat fire. His statements are consistently fiery. "I defend Islam," he said only last week. "Now it is up to the Indonesian government, police and people to also defend Islam, or choose to defend America." He has called the United States the number one enemy of Indonesia.
Bashir insists he is a simple Islamic teacher, although he readily admits to encouraging Muslims to wage holy war if they believe Christians are attacking Muslims. "If you understand jihad and are capable, carry it out but only in places of jihad, where there is a war against infidels, protecting yourself and Muslim brothers under attack like in Bosnia," he told Reuters earlier this year. Australia said on Tuesday the group should be listed by the United Nations as a terrorist group.


Link to related event Related event:
Bali terrorist attack


Posted in Terrorism @ 15 October 2002 00:05 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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