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Indonesia arrests Islamic leader JAKARTA - Indonesia issued a tough anti-terror decree Saturday that would punish the Bali bombers with the death penalty, while the spiritual leader of an Islamic group suspected in the attack was arrested in connection with a spate of church bombings two years ago. Nearly a week after bombs exploded in a nightclub district on the resort island, killing at least 183 people and injuring more than 300, the world's most populous Muslim country appeared to be heeding months of calls to crack down on terrorism.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government achieved two milestones in the anti-terrorism fight - ramming through emergency measures by decree after months of legislative delay in Parliament, and arresting the cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for the church attacks that killed 19 people. Both reflected signs of the difficulties confronting the government, which has feared a crackdown could provoke a backlash by extremists. The decree was announced nine hours late after a Cabinet meeting Justice Minister Yusril Mahendra said was hung up on unspecified points.
The final decree permits suspects to be detained for three days based on intelligence reports. A judge can then order the suspect held for up to six months for further interrogation without charge. Anyone who commits an act of terror, or threatens to do so, or who damages public or international facilities, could face prison sentences ranging from four years to life to death by firing squad. Using chemical, biological or radioactive materials to cause terror would 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 were made retroactive to cover the Bali bombing. ``After what happened in Bali, Indonesia urgently needs a law to fight terrorism,'' Justice Minister Yusril Izha Mahendra said. ``By having this decree, we have the authority to take action against terrorism.'' The measures will be enforced by the police. Many Indonesians are hesitant about giving wider powers to the military - which has a record of human rights abuses only partially reined in by democratic leaders since dictator Suharto was toppled in 1998.
Bashir, 64, who runs an Islamic boarding school in the Java city of Solo, was summoned by police to the capital to be questioned Saturday about his alleged involvement in deadly church bombings in 2000. Police have said Bashir is not a suspect in the Bali bombings, but the al-Qaida-linked organization he is accused of leading, Jemaah Islamiyah, is viewed by the United States and Australia as a prime suspect in the attack. On Saturday, Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil said authorities were now ``certain'' of al-Qaida's presence in Indonesia.
Bashir, who was hospitalized Friday with breathing problems, is now under guard at the main hospital in his hometown of Solo, said National Police spokesman Gen. Saleh Saaf. He initially avoided questioning by being hospitalized hours after giving a defiant sermon to about 300 followers in Solo in which he prayed for the safety of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Doctors had said he probably would not released before Sunday.
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 refused, saying there was not enough evidence to prove Bashir 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 who was arrested in Indonesia and turned over to U.S. custody in June. Al-Faruq fingered Bashir as ordering the Christmas Eve 2000 church bombings and implicated him in the activities of Jemaah Islamiyah.
Bashir denied any involvement in the church bombings and the Bali attack and said he does not know al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti. He accused the United States of inventing both al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah and claimed Washington wants to portray Muslims as terrorists. In Bali, Indonesian Brig. Gen. Edward Aritonang said investigators questioned 67 people in connection with the nightclub blast.
``There is some progress in the investigation but so far we have no suspects,'' Aritonang said Saturday. On Saturday, the U.S. State Department warned Americans to defer travel to Indonesia because the recent attacks put ``U.S. citizens and interests at risk.'' The State Department also said Americans in Indonesia should consider leaving. Australia again urged its citizens to leave Indonesia, saying areas in Jakarta frequented by Westerners could be hit by terrorists. Britain also advised its citizens to leave and authorized a voluntary withdrawal of nonessential staff from its embassy in Jakarta.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed that nearly 300 nonessential staff left by Friday. Ambassador Ralph Boyce denied a New York Times report that he had warned Megawati the day before the blast that a group linked to al-Qaida was planning attacks against Westerners.

Posted in Terrorism @ 19 October 2002 00:03 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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