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Indonesia moves on Muslim militants

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir
Abu Bakar Ba'asyir has denied he is a member of al Qaeda  

By Amy Chew

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Indonesia moved against militant Muslim groups for the first time when police questioned a Muslim cleric whom regional governments have accused of being linked to terrorist networks and possibly al Qaeda.

The questioning, which continues Friday, is an effort to dispel criticism that Jakarta tolerates extremist groups, and follows the recent crackdown on suspected terrorists by its neighbouring countries -- Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the leader of the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI), rejected accusations of being linked to al Qaeda.

"I am not a member of al Qaeda," he said Thursday.

"However, I truly praise the struggle of Osama bin Laden, who has courageously represented the world's Muslim community in fighting the arrogance of the terrorist United States and its allies who have blindly slaughtered the innocent people of Afghanistan ... " he said in a statement issued during a break in questioning.

Authorities seem reluctant to move against radical groups in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. CNN's Atika Shubert reports (January 24)

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Indonesian police said the questioning of Ba'asyir was proof that the country was serious and proactive in the fight against terrorism.

Governments in Southeast Asia have accused Ba'asyir of being linked to Jemaah Islamiah, a militant Islamic group whose members have been arrested in Singapore and the Philippines

One of the suspects, Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, arrested in the Philippines, led to the seizure of a massive amount of explosives which authorities believed was linked to a plot to bomb U.S. targets in Singapore.

Fathur, an Indonesian citizen, spent several years studying at an Islamic school Ba'asyir helped found, according to local news reports.

Chief Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono denied the country was under pressure to do more to combat terrorism but said it was carrying out its "duties" for the needs of the country and international community.

But a senior military source told CNN that critical statements coming from the U.S. were an implicit pressure to get Indonesia to issue a firm stance in the war against global terrorism.

"It (criticisms) is a form of pressure from the U.S. to Indonesia to state a firm stance in combattng international terrorism as defined by the U.S.," said the military source.

President Megawati: uncertain  

The government's so-called "soft stance" on militant Islamic groups to date have reflected President Megawati Sukarnoputri's uncertainty and fear of a backlash from hardliners who successfully blocked her first presidential bid in 1999 by campaigning that a woman cannot rule under Islam.

Underscoring Megawati's uncertainty is the lack of clear directive from the top leadership to the military on what to do with Muslim radicals. "As a state apparatus, we (military) move on the order of the political authorities," the millitary source said.

Asked why there was no clear directive from political authorities, he replied:"Maybe the president lacks confidence."


The majority of Indonesia's 210 million people are moderate Muslims but hardliners have managed to unsettle the government with their loud rhetoric and militancy.

Indonesia's police say Malaysia and Singapore have been able to launch sweeping crackdowns because the two countries have the powerful Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows for detention without trial.


"But believe me," national police chief Da'i Bachtiar told reporters, "the police, military and intelliegence are working hard to eradicate terrorism with all kinds of efforts."

Indonesia's parliament is currently debating an anti-terrorism bill rejected by Muslim radicals who staged a protest outside the legislature early this week.

The Front for the Defenders of Islam (FPI) described the bill as an "American order" which violates human rights.

Police spokesman Saleh Saaf said an anti-terrorism law would give authorities the legal basis to take action againsts suspected terrorists.

"We are waiting for that law," said Saaf.




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