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Arrest leaves Indonesia in the dark

Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, has been wanted in Indonesia since 2000.
Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, has been wanted in Indonesia since 2000.

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(CNN) -- The capture of the suspected head of terrorist mastermind and al Qaeda point man, Hambali, in Thailand has appears to have come as something of a surprise to officials in Indonesia.

Officials in Jakarta were apparently not notified of, or even involved in his arrest despite the fact that Hambali is Indonesian and is wanted in Indonesia for his alleged role in several bombings including the October 2002 Bali blasts.

Left out also despite renewed Indonesian efforts to crack down on Islamic extremism and terror groups.

In recent weeks Jakarta has made a string of arrests of suspected terrorists and has pledged closer regional cooperation in the war against terror.

"We have not received any word about Hambali's extradition to Indonesia," Indonesia's national police spokesman Zainuri Lubis said Friday.

"Even the news of his arrest, we heard it from the press," he said.

Although Thailand's defense minister said Hambali was handed over to U.S. officials before being flown to Indonesia, Jakarta appears none the wiser about the suspect's location.

"We did not receive any official notification of the arrest," chief detective of the national police Erwin Mappaseng said.

"We still don't know whether he is in America ... we just don't know where he is."

However, Mappaseng said he had received orders to set up an investigation team to assist in interrogating Hambali.

Intelligence sources have told CNN that even if Hambali were flown to Indonesia, he would not be staying there long. Indonesia also does not have any extradition agreement with the United States.

All this, however, is not bad news for Indonesia. In fact, it is quite the contrary.

Indonesia, like other Southeast Asian nations after Hambali, welcomed the news of his arrest but is unlikely to be overly keen to have the suspect in their possession.

"We congratulate it. We congratulate the authorities that arrest Hambali," Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said.

"We have a strong interest for Hambali to be handed over to Indonesia. But at the same time, we fully understand that terrorism is an international threat to peace and security that he is also on the wanted list by others."

If Hambali were delivered to Indonesia, it would be something of a political hot potato for the government.

Already, Jakarta is treading a delicate line as it tries to display a tough anti-terror stance whilst preventing any public backlash in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Fears of a broad anti-government response were paramount during the sentencing of a suspect for his role in the Bali blasts earlier this month.

Indonesia is also trying several other suspects in the deadly bombing, as well as the spiritual head of JI, cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir on other terrorist related charges.

Thus, Jakarta could be relieved that Hambali is unlikely to be added to the list as the country tries to cleanse its image as a terrorist haven and hotspot -- a portrait given more prominence in the wake of last week's car bomb attack at the capital's Marriott Hotel.

Indonesian authorities are however keen to glean as much information off Hambali as possible.

"Hambali is of great interest to us so that we can uncover all the bombing cases with great detail that took place in Indonesia," Mappaseng said, adding that investigators believed Hambali had played a major role in all the bomb attacks in Indonesia in recent years.

"He has been on our wanted list since 2000."

-- Journalist Amy Chew contributed to this report.


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