Cleric praises ‘brave Osama’


Militant Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir yesterday again denied links with Osama bin Laden even as he praised the terrorist as a “true Muslim fighter”.

“I am not a member of Al-Qaeda but I really respect the struggle of Osama bin Laden, who has bravely represented the world’s Muslims in their fight against the arrogant United States of America and their allies,” he said in a statement.

His comments came after six hours of police interrogation, during which he was asked, among other things, about his links with several Muslim groups in Malaysia.

National police spokesman Saleh Saaf said the questioning would continue today and cover allegations that he led the Jemaah Islamiah group and had connections to Osama’s Al-Qaeda network.

Critics of the government, however, are sceptical that it will go beyond questioning the 64-year-old as they believe the intent is to assuage an international community increasingly frustrated by Jakarta’s slowness in cracking down on Muslim militants.

But palace sources insist the government is serious about weeding out extremists – only after hard evidence is produced. Such evidence seems to be growing as investigators in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines continue to unearth information that increasingly points to complicity by Abu Bakar and his hardline associates.

The latest discovery here is that Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, arrested by Philippine police recently for bombings in Manila, studied at the Muslim boarding school that Abu Bakar founded in 1974.

The director of the Al-Mukmin school said a student called Fathur Rohman studied there between 1982 and 1988 and came from Madiun. According to media reports here, Fathur comes from the Madiun district in East Java.

Abu Bakar’s lawyer, Mr Ahmad Michdan, yesterday dismissed the latest allegation. “There are hundreds of people with his name in Indonesia. It is not enough proof,” he said.

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