Militant cleric vows to resist arrest

Bashir says he will use force and there are fears his supporters could stage a symbolic reprisal attack in Jakarta.

Militant Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is likely to be discharged from hospital today, has warned that he will resist attempts to detain him.

The 64-year-old terror suspect, wanted for questioning in connection with a spate of bombings in 2000, said that his detention would be tantamount to ‘surrendering a Muslim to the wishes of infidels who have a certain agenda, that is, making war on Islam’.

Speaking to reporters in Solo, from the hospital where he has been warded for the last nine days for respiratory problems, he declared: ‘The terrorist governments of the United States, Australia and Israel demanded that I be detained and therefore it will be haram to follow. I will resist with whatever powers I have.’

Haram is Arabic and means forbidden under Islam.

Pressed by reporters as to the meaning of ‘whatever powers I have’, he said that he meant ‘by force’.

Bashir, in his first statement since entering hospital, said he he did not object to being questioned by police. His brother-in-law Umar Baraja told The Straits Times earlier that there were no legal grounds to detain Bashir, who is now being seen increasingly as also being involved in the Oct 12 Bali bombings.

‘If the police dare to arrest him, we will revolt,’ Mr Umar said. ‘There will be nationwide unrest, because we have the support of all the Muslims who see this as injustice being carried out against Islam and a respected cleric.’

The threats confirmed security agencies’ concerns that as the government tried to close in on Bashir, his fanatical supporters could stage some sort of symbolic reprisal attack in a large urban centre, possibly Jakarta, Medan or Surabaya.

An online poll published by the Media Indonesian newspaper yesterday showed a majority – 56 per cent – of the 1,752 people who responded believe the arrest of hardline Muslim leaders, including Bashir, would lead to more violence, given that it could also stir up emotions in other radical groups.

But analysts believe it would be difficult for the Muslim cleric and his supporters to move the moderate ground. Both the Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, which together make up almost 70 million Indonesian Muslims, have already called for tough laws to fight terrorism.

The key now was how the government would move against Bashir.

Despite all its tough talk, Jakarta has been at a loss as to how to throw him behind bars, fearing a backlash and worried that action against a religious leader could damage the credentials of Indonesian politicians eyeing the 2004 election.

A Western diplomat said: ‘There is a lot of talk but nothing seems to be happening in reality. It is all foot-dragging.’

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