Terrorists? Jakarta ‘yet to see proof’

Indonesian government casts doubt on links between groups and individuals in the country and terrorism elsewhere

The Indonesian government said yesterday it had yet to see sufficient evidence that foreign-linked terrorists were operating here, despite the widely-held view that such extremist elements were present in the country.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said Jakarta was not altogether convinced that Indonesia was home to groups or individuals who were part of a regional terrorist network.

“We’ve not had any strong evidence on the involvement of Muslim organisations here so far, so nobody’s being arrested,” he told reporters.

“If Malaysia and Singapore went ahead with their policy to arrest people who are allegedly involved in terrorism, I agree with them.”

Since last month, both neighbours have cracked down on nearly 40 terrorists. But Jakarta has continued to cast doubt on growing indications that links exist between groups in the country and international terrorist outfits.

That was evident again yesterday when Mr Hassan questioned the nationality of 30-year-old bomb-maker Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi – nabbed in Manila last week and described by Philippine police as an Indonesian with links to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.

“According to the information we have obtained from the Singapore media, this person lived in Singapore for quite some time and has a wife,” he said. “So, is it true that this person is still an Indonesian citizen?”

He also warned against connecting the man to Al-Qaeda: “We should not link everything with Al-Qaeda.”

Indonesian police have also been reluctant to act against Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, thought by Singapore and Malaysia to be the head of the Jemaah Islamiah group. But Jakarta wants more evidence of his involvement before doing anything.

Political observers said Jakarta’s refusal to rein in suspected terrorists stemmed largely from the fear of a domestic backlash from Muslim groups that have considerable political clout. National pride is also at stake.

Said a Western diplomatic source: “The prevailing thinking is that Indonesia wants to do things its own way and in its own time.”

Sources said there was “quiet recognition” of the existence of terrorist cells in the sprawling archipelago.

But the Cabinet has been divided on how to handle the matter, given the absence of clear leadership from President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

One senior Cabinet minister, in particular, has come in for some flak. His critics say he is unwilling to act against such groups because it could jeopardise his links with Muslim groups and parties critical to his 2004 presidential bid.

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