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Thinktank warning on JI split

By Grant Holloway
CNN Sydney

Alleged JI spiritual leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir has denied any knowledge of terror bombings

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A CNN Special Report by Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa 
War against terror: Southeast Asia front 

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- An international thinktank has warned that outlawed Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) has become divided, with Malaysian elements pressing for a more radical approach to Jihad, or Holy War.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), which is headed by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, says JI's Indonesia-based reputed spiritual leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, is being challenged by younger men who find him insufficiently radical.

JI is strongly suspected of being responsible for the October 12 nightclub bombings on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali which killed around 190 people.

A number of suspects arrested so far in relation to the Bali attack have admitted links to the Islamic group.

Ba'asyir is currently being held by Indonesian police for questioning over his involvement in a string of Christian Church bombings in late 2000 and a failed plot to assassinate Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri. He has denied any knowledge of these incidents.

The religious leader has not yet been directly linked to the Bali atrocity and the crisis group report suggests Ba'asyir probably was not the brains behind the bombings.

A team of ICG staff and consultants spent two months investigating the character of JI, spanning back to the Christmas Eve church bombings in 2000.

"Abu Bakar Ba'asyir .... is the formal head of Jemaah Islamiyah, but a deep rift has emerged between him and the JI leadership in Malaysia, who find him insufficiently radical," the report, released Wednesday, says.

"Ba'asyir undoubtedly knows far more than he has been willing to divulge about JI operations, but he is unlikely to have been the mastermind of the JI attacks," the report says.

The report also finds that JI is probably more widespread throughout Indonesia than first thought and that it may have forged ties with the Indonesian military in the strife-torn province of Aceh.

That link is based on mutual opposition to the Acehnese rebel movement which has been fighting for more than 25 years for independence from Indonesia.

JI is widely suspected of being involved in the October 12 Bali nightclub bombings

A peace pact was signed between the Indonesian government and Aceh rebels earlier this week with a promise of elections on an autonomous future down the track.

The report says that up until the U.S.-led war on terror, the main focus of JI activities was Indonesian Christians.

But events since the September 11 terror attacks on the United States prompted a switch of attention to Westerners, as indicated by the Bali attacks. The bulk of the Bali victims were Australian tourists.

JI is described as a loose-knit organization with an ad-hoc structure.

It's top strategists appeared to be protégés of Abdullah Sungkar -- the co-founder with Ba'asyir of a religious boarding school in central Java -- Indonesians national living in Malaysia and veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan.


In dealing with the JI threat, the report recommends the Indonesian government re-opens investigations into earlier bombings with a systematic pooling of information from across the republic.

It also suggests a strengthening of Indonesian intelligence capacity and co-ordination but "through a focus on the Indonesian police rather than on the National Intelligence Agency or the army".

Corruption in the police, army and immigration service also needs to be more seriously addressed, particularly regarding trade in arms and explosives.

The report comes less than a week before an Australia-Indonesia joint conference on combating money-laundering and terrorist financing.

The conference, which will be held December 17 and 18 in Bali, will be attended by 33 senior officials from Asia Pacific countries, including Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Hassan Wirajuda.

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