Muslim leaders slam militants’ arrest

They view the detention of militants in Singapore and Malaysia as a plot against Islam and urge Jakarta not to follow suit.

Leaders of several Muslim groups here, including two of the country’s largest, said yesterday the arrest of militants in Singapore and Malaysia was part of a United States-led conspiracy against Islam and urged Jakarta not to follow suit.

Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, together with the Indonesian Ulema Council, outfits operating on the fringe and even some legislators, criticised the detentions and said the authorities here should not be swayed by those events.

They said security agencies in Singapore and Malaysia had joined forces with the Americans to counter the growth of Islam in the region.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri has not issued any official comment on the arrests although Foreign Minister Hasan Wirajuda said yesterday that the government was following developments closely.

But influential Muslim groups here have had no qualms about making their feelings known.

Mr Din Syamsuddin, secretary-general of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the nation’s top Islamic authority, said that since the Sept 11 attacks on America, Washington and its allies appeared to be “finding fault” with Islam.

He warned the Indonesian security forces against following the example set by Singapore and Malaysia because it could “spark more problems”.

“I myself do not agree with the idea of setting up an Islamic state, but I would also disagree if the police acted unfairly towards such groups.”

He said the authorities in the two countries should present “solid evidence” to show that those detained were part of an international terrorist network with links to Osama bin Laden.

Separately, a senior legislator from Ms Megawati’s party who sits on the parliamentary commission overseeing law and internal security told The Straits Times:

“It seems to me that this has the fingerprints of the United States all over it. Like in the Cold War, the Americans are trying to get countries in Asia to do their bidding.

“Then, the threat was communism. Now the threat is Islam. Indonesia must not fall prey to that.”

In separate comments, the leader of the 30-million-strong NU, Mr Hasyim Muzadi, said the arrests were “cause for concern” because the action discredited Islam.

“The Islamic movement in Indonesia or any other country cannot be equated with terrorism. That is the mistake many countries are making.”

Most Muslim leaders here believe the authorities have little grounds to charge that terrorist cells operate in Indonesia. If there were fundamentalist groups, these acted solely on their faith and religious teachings – and had not resorted to armed force.

Muhammadiyah chief Syafii Maarif called for restraint in dealing with militants, saying that arrests would cause more problems, such as sparking protests, especially if there was a perception that Islam was being targeted and Muslims were being made scapegoats.

He acknowledged that while certain militant groups here had advocated the setting up of an Islamic state, these were a minority and they had not resorted to violence.

The comments by Muslim leaders here suggest that it might be difficult for the Malaysian authorities to gain access to two Indonesians identified as “directing figures” of the detained militants.

These are Indonesian Mujahiddin Council head Abu Bakar Bashir alias Abdus Samad, and preacher Hambali alias Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin – both of whom are said to be in Solo, Central Java.

Malaysia’s Bernama news agency reported that both were likely to evade arrest as the Indonesian authorities remain undecided on what action should be taken against them.

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