Cleric denies calling for jihad in S’pore

Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir said yesterday that he had met several of the Muslim militants detained in Singapore and Malaysia as a religious preacher over the past decade, but never once called on them to wage a holy war in their countries.

He told The Sunday Times in an interview that he had urged them and others who attended his classes and sermons to take up arms only if they felt Muslim interests were being compromised.

“I advocate jihad because it is important in the Quran,” he said. “But I make it clear to my students that it should only be done in places where Muslims are being victimised, like in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and southern Philippines.”

“It makes no sense for me to call for a jihad in Singapore and Malaysia. There is no evidence that these countries are ill-treating Muslims.”

The 64-year-old cleric looked relaxed despite two days of police questioning to determine if there were links between him and Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network. He voiced support for the Saudi-born militant’s terror campaign against the Americans, but downplayed the need for a similar campaign in Asian countries.

He said he did not understand why Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines were cracking down on Muslim militants, whom he described as “pure Muslims”.

Since December, about 40 suspected terrorists have been rounded up in these three countries.

“I suspect the security agencies in these countries are being over-zealous. They are concerned that those who espouse thejihad are a major threat to national security. They do not have an understanding of the Quran to know that our intentions are not hostile or fundamentalist.”

But he appeared lost for words when asked why militants in Singapore, for example, had planned to attack American installations in the country.

After a pause, he replied: “Why should they want to attack targets in Singapore? I think they had no intention of doing so. They might have wanted to use such targets as a trial practice before going off to Afghanistan.”

Pressed again, he said: “They might have been manipulated by a third party. I don’t know.”

During the 30-minute interview, he did not criticise the Singapore government’s arrest of 15 people for having links to Al-Qaeda, although other reports quoted him as attacking the Republic for being “the slave of the United States”. But he said Malaysia’s round-up of Muslim militants was politically motivated.

He said Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was concerned that Islamic groups had gained ground at the expense of Umno in the last two elections. Dr Mahathir, he said, was intent on crushing the “Muslim movement” before it made further inroads.

“A lot of the Muslim activists that have been jailed by Mahathir have done nothing wrong. He manipulated the situation to create a very negative view of them,” he said.

Abu Bakar, who heads the Mujahideen Council of Indonesia in Solo, Central Java, was recently named by Malaysian authorities as a “directing figure” of members of the “second wing” of the Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM).

Yesterday, he continued to insist that he had no connections with the KMM, Jemaah Islamiah or Al-Qaeda.

“I am being made a scapegoat. There is no proof and I want to say again that I will take legal action if people continue to link me with them.”

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