ISA-type law gains support in Jakarta

Marriott hotel bombing sparks new push, with military chief the latest to back need for preventive detention of suspects.

Indonesia’s military chief yesterday backed Cabinet calls for a tough internal security law like those in Singapore and Malaysia as the only way to battle terrorism in the country.

As a further sign Jakarta was toughening its stand against extremists, hardline Muslim leader Habib Rizieq Shihab was given seven months’ jail for organising mob attacks on nightclubs.

This came just days after another militant was sentenced to death for his role in the Bali bombings.

Changing public sentiment has strengthened the government’s hand against Islamic radicals, allowing the authorities to adopt policies that were unthinkable a year ago.

Capturing the prevailing mood in security and intelligence agencies and some in the Cabinet, General Endriartono Sutarto made it clear security forces now ‘do not have the authority’ to arrest people as a preventive measure.

Anti-terrorism regulations introduced after the Oct 12 blasts in Bali armed police with new powers, such as using intelligence data as the basis for arrests, but these were still insufficient, he said.

They are not as effective as the subversion laws former president Suharto used with great effect to clamp down on fundamentalism.

The Internal Security Act (ISA) used in Singapore and Malaysia allows indefinite detention of suspects deemed a threat to national security.

Calls from security agencies to implement an ISA-like law as early as this year have been mounting. Analysts said Indonesian police and intelligence officials can do little against militants today except monitor their movements.

While the government is keen to introduce such a law, political circumstances and the still hesitant Muslim ground have prevented it.

However, the Marriott bombing last week, which left 11 dead and 150 injured, started a new push for such a law.

Yesterday, police officials said that DNA tests on a severed head found at the blast scene belonged to Jemaah Islamiah (JI) member Asmar Latinsani.

The authorities also released sketches of two men believed to have bought the minivan used in the bombing.

The attack prompted Defence Minister Matori Abdul Jalil to say last Friday that tougher laws were needed to wipe out the JI network.

A police general said: ‘There are some 300 people we would like to take off the streets, but we can’t do anything against them now because the laws don’t allow us to.’

Human rights activists are against ISA-type laws, saying their introduction will lead to abuse.

Legal Aid Association chief Hendardi said in yesterday’s Jakarta Post the country does not need such laws.

The government is now turning the screws on the militants.

Habib, who heads the notorious Islamic Defenders’ Front, is the latest casualty. Yesterday, he was found ‘guilty of inciting violent acts and spreading hatred against the lawful government of Indonesia’.

Outside the courtroom, hundreds of his supporters reacted angrily to the verdict. They scuffled with police, as many shouted: ‘Release our teacher! God is great!’

With another Bali bomber, Imam Samudra, standing trial, palace aide Rizal Malarangeng told The Straits Times: ‘We need to wipe out these radicals at all cost. We need to throw them in jail so that we can preserve our freedom.’

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