Indonesia arrests key suspect in Bali bombing

Capture of man whose face resembles composite sketch may be a breakthrough; manhunt for up to 10 people continues.

It may be the breakthrough that police here have been waiting for: A man whose face is similar to a composite sketch of one of the Bali bombing suspects has been detained.

The capture – just days after authorities released sketches of three suspects of the Oct 12 blast – may now give Jakarta some room to breathe after coming under criticism about its foot-dragging in the investigation.

Police detained the man, identified only by the initials R.S., on Thursday at a bus terminal in the town of Bajawa on Flores island, some 500 km east of Bali.

Investigators said the 33-year-old man, a resident of Jakarta but born in strife-torn Ambon, told them he was vacationing in Flores and was in Bajawa looking for a hotel to stay the night.

Police Major General I Made Pastika, who said the suspect was flown to Denpasar, the capital of Bali, for questioning, added: ‘He is refusing to answer many of our questions.’

The manhunt for as many as 10 people thought to be involved in the bombings was also taking place in Java, especially in Surabaya and Malang, and parts of eastern Indonesia, including Lombok and Irian Jaya.

Sources, who identified one of the key suspects by his alias Al-Jabara, said it was likely that those involved would lie low for weeks before seeking safe passage out of Indonesia.

The developments in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region have done little to calm nerves in Washington, which appears to be still unsure at times about Indonesia’s resolve in the fight against terror.

The United States State Department warned in a statement issued on Friday in Washington that terrorist groups operating in South-east Asia might be planning attacks against Americans travelling in the region and advised them to be cautious.

It said that in the aftermath of the Bali bombings and the heightened security measures at US facilities in the region, extremist outfits were looking at ‘softer targets’. This included clubs, restaurants, places of worship, hotels and other areas visited by Westerners. But such advisories have been criticised by Asean officials. Said Asean secretary-general Rodolfo Severino: ‘I think there is an unconscious effort to identify South-east Asia with terrorism because of the large number of Muslims in this area. ‘It is true there are terrorist cells… But we also know that there are such terrorist cells in Britain and Germany but nobody is calling, or issuing, advisories about travel in Germany and Britain.’

He was speaking to AFP in Phnom Penh where Asean leaders meet from tomorrow for their annual summit.

Mr Severino and other officials who are already there said the 10-member grouping was taking steps to intensify regional cooperation against terrorism, including having regular meetings and even setting up an anti-terrorism centre in Malaysia.

Police in Jakarta yesterday began the first day of questioning cleric Abu Bakar Bashir over his alleged involvement in a spate of bombings in 2000 and a plot to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri, but got few answers from him.

Authorities had delayed questioning the 64-year-old, who allegedly leads the Jemaah Islamiah group, because of his ill health and the fear of a Muslim backlash.

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