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Ailing Indon militant avoids questioning JAKARTA - Despite the adoption of a tough new law that includes sweeping powers to detain suspected terrorists, police said Saturday they had postponed the interrogation of the alleged leader of a militant group suspected in last week's Bali nightclub bombing. "There has been no decision to forcibly take Abu Bakar Bashir to Jakarta for questioning,'' said Col. Hasyim Irianto, the chief of police in the town of Solo in central Java, where the Muslim cleric was hospitalized on Friday with breathing difficulties.
Police had wanted to question Bashir, 64, on Saturday. Bashir has denied involvement in the Oct. 12 bombing that killed at least 183 people and injured more than 300, many of them foreign tourists. The carnage triggered international demands that Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim nation - crack down on extremists and militants allegedly linked to the al-Qaida terror network.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri, slow to act against religious militancy in the past because of Islamic sensitivities, has rammed through emergency measures by decree after months of legislative delay in Parliament. The decree was announced late Friday night after a Cabinet meeting. It was made retroactive to cover those responsible for the Bali bombing. "After what happened in Bali, Indonesia urgently needs a law to fight terrorism,'' Justice Minister Yusril Mahendra said.
The decree allows for suspects to be detained initially for three days. With a judge's approval, this can be extended by another six months without charges filed. Those convicted of carrying out or threatening to carry out acts of terror will face prison sentences ranging from four years to life or the death penalty. Using chemical, biological or radioactive materials to cause terror will bring the same penalties. People who stockpile or use firearms or explosives could face penalties ranging from three years in jail to death.
The measures will be enforced by the police. Many human rights activists are leery of wider powers for the Indonesian military, which has a long record of brutal abuses. The abuses have only been partially reined in by the fledgling democracy since dictator Suharto was toppled in 1998. Human Rights Watch said in a statement it was concerned that the decree could lead to a return of Suharto-era abuses, including the torture of political prisoners, "given Indonesia's weak judiciary, rampant corruption and poor human rights record.''
U.S. diplomats said Saturday the evacuation of more than 300 nonessential staffers and family members from the mission had been completed on Friday. The evacuation was triggered by warnings of more terrorist attacks. About 100 U.S. diplomats will remain in Jakarta. Bashir, who runs an Islamic boarding school in the central Java city of Solo, was summoned by police to the capital to be questioned about his alleged involvement in a series of deadly church bombings in 2000.
Authorities say Bashir is not a suspect in the Bali bombings, although the organization he is accused of leading, Jemaah Islamiyah, is widely believed to have been involved. Col. Irianto said he expected Bashir to be released from Muhammadiyah Hospital in two days. The police official told reporters that questioning would be postponed, but not canceled.
A group of about half a dozen teenage students from Bashir's school spent the night in front of the hospital. "Bashir's condition is still weak,'' said his brother Umar Baradja. "We were afraid the police might arrest him yesterday, so we had a group of students guard the hospital.'' Malaysia and Singapore have urged Indonesia for months to arrest Bashir after uncovering a plot by Jemaah Islamiyah to blow up the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets in Singapore.
The two countries have jailed nearly 100 suspected Jemaah Islamiyah members. Indonesia had balked, saying there was not enough evidence to prove Bashir had committed a crime. Under enormous international pressure, officials flipped their position Friday after a team of Indonesian investigators returned from questioning Omar al-Faruq, an al-Qaida operative in Southeast Asia who was arrested in Indonesia and turned over to the United States in June.
Al-Faruq fingered Bashir as ordering the spate of church bombings on Christmas Eve, 2000, and implicated him in the activities of Jemaah Islamiyah. Brig. Gen. Edward Aritonang said Bashir may be arrested in connection with the church bombings in which 19 people were killed and dozens injured. Bashir said he does not even know al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti.
He accused the United States of inventing both al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah and claimed that Washington wants to portray Muslims as terrorists.

Posted in Terrorism @ 19 October 2002 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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