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Terror group hurting after arrests

Amy Chew for CNN


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• War against terror: Southeast Asia front 
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JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah is facing difficulties recruiting new members in Indonesia following the arrest of its top operators, increased police surveillance and growing public perception that its alleged leader has abandoned his followers.

"It is becoming more difficult for JI to recruit. They are on the run," Inspector General Made Mangku Pastika, chief investigator of last October's devastating Bali bomb blast, told CNN.

During his trial for treason, alleged JI leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir has constantly denied the existence of the organization and his followers, drawing tears from some of them.

Ba'asyir has been accused of approving the bombings of several churches and planning to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri. (Cleric approved church bombings)

Asked whether the public felt JI had abandoned its foot soldiers, Pastika said "yes."

On June 26, two detained JI members in Singapore, testifying at Baasyir's trial via a video-conference link, broke down when the Muslim cleric refused to acknowledge them.

A third detainee, Jafaar Mistooki, urged Baasyir to own up.

"He should not betray us, the loyal members of JI who have executed the operations he led by not admitting he is JI's highest leader," Mistooki said.

Pastika says Indonesians have become aware that JI brought untold sufferings with their acts of violence.

"We have proved to the public in Indonesia that JI was involved in terrorism, that their acts caused lots of suffering to the people in Bali and in Indonesia.

"The trials of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and suspects of Bali bombing give clear lessons for them (public). More and more people understand that this is not a good organizaton for them," he said.

When Ba'asyir and the Bali bombers were first arrested the public was largely skeptical, suspecting they were made scapegoats by the government to appease Western pressure to crackdown on Muslim radicals.

Some were even convinced the CIA engineered the Bali blasts.

Pastika warned that JI members had become frustrated with the disruption to their organization. The group is believed to be planning future attacks, including bombings.

"When they are frustrated, they become more radical. We have to be more careful and we need the support of the people," said Pastika.

Police arrested several JI members, including Idris -- an executor of the Bali blast -- in June and evidence emerged that the suspects were looking for money to stage new attacks.

When Idris was arrested in the northern Sumatran capital of Medan, he had just robbed a bank and was counting his loot -- 113 million rupiah (US$13,800).

Top Indonesian detective Erwin Mappaseng said Idris' group was also planning to rob a bank in Pekanbaru, Sumatra. It is thought the money was to be used to fund JI's activities, including buying explosives.

Mappaseng said with the latest arrests and JI's remaining leaders on the run, it would be difficult for the group to get hold of money.

"It is not as easy as before to get money because they are on the run," Mappaseng told CNN.

JI's operational chief, Hambali -- wanted by several governments for his involvement in a string of bombings in Southeast Asia, including the Bali blast, and a plot to attack U.S. targets across the region -- is a major conduit of funds to the group.

Mappaseng said JI's members have not received any funds from Hambali since last year.

"The last time they received money from Hambali was for the Bali blast," said Mappaseng.

Despite the string of arrests, police believe many JI suspects are still at large and the threat cannot be removed with arrests alone.

"The state should take steps against them," he said.

"It's not enough if only the police arrest them because this has to do with ideology, it needs more comprehensive effort to handle this like re-educating those who have wrong teachings."


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