Wanted cleric ready to face police



Abu Bakar Bashir, linked to the Jemaah Ismaliah group, says Indonesia and Islam are being made scapegoats by the US

Militant Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir said that he was ready to be questioned by Indonesian police today over his alleged links to foreign terrorists, but he remained firm that he was innocent of any criminal act.

“I want to protect all Indonesians from the slurs that are being hurled against this country,” he said at a press conference here yesterday.

“I am prepared to clarify whatever points the police might want to check with me.”

His lawyer, Mr Achmad Michdan, said later that the cleric, wanted by Singapore and Malaysia for his role with extremist groups, had no links with Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network or other similar outfits in the region.

“We feel that Indonesia and Islam are being made scapegoats by the Americans,” he said. “The Americans are not being fair in trying to dictate the global agenda.

“We are not the only victims. They don’t even have solid proof that Osama is guilty. Yet they bomb Afghanistan.”

The comments followed a move by Jakarta to summon the 64-year-old cleric for questioning after weeks of delay despite indications that he was the leader of the militant Jemaah Ismaliah group that had cells in Singapore, Malaysia and southern Philippines.

Observers said that the government’s response was largely a result of international pressure and media spotlight on an issue that painted a bleak picture of leadership in Indonesia.

US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia, said recently that there were areas in the country where the government was “extremely weak”, referring to its efforts to fight terrorism.

Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs General Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters that there was “no pressure on Indonesia to do more”.

“We have achieved concrete results,” he said yesterday.

“But we can’t publish it yet. In a few days, we will explain it so that the world knows that Indonesia has been working to combat terrorism.”

National police spokesman Saleh Saaf said the cleric would be questioned by a five-man investigation team.

“We have collected a lot of information from local sources and from Singapore and Malaysia, and will see what he has to say about them.”

ABU BAKAR BASHIR THE militant Muslim cleric, who is also known as Abdus Samad, is allegedly the leader of the terrorist Jemaah Ismaliah group that has cells in Singapore, Malaysia and southern Philippines.

In 1978, he was sentenced to nine years in jail by an Indonesian court for his involvement with Komando Jihad, which was fighting to set up an Islamic state.

His jail term was later halved, and he spent most of his time under house arrest.

HAMBALI ALSO known as Nurjaman Riduan, he is a lieutenant to Mr Abu Bakar Bashir. Malaysian police believed the two men were among four preachers who entered Malaysia in the mid-80s at the height of the renaissance of Islam globally and injected their brand of religion into the hearts and minds of young Muslims in Kelantan, Selangor, Kedah and Johor.

MUHAMMAD IQBAL RAHMAN HE WAS arrested in the crackdown on a Kumpulan Militan Malaysia cell last year. He was one of the four preachers who entered Malaysia in the mid-80s.

The fourth preacher, Mr Abdullah Sungkar, had been credited with introducing the Jemaah Islamiah in Malaysia. He died in 1999.

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