Friday, April 30, 2004

Indonesia police arrest Bashir

Indonesian police detain radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir (C) as he leaves Jakarta's Salemba prison on April 30, 2004. Indonesian police re-arrested Bashir after moving him from jail on Friday while his supporters hurled rocks at police who responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.

By Jerry Norton and Telly Nathalia

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian police have arrested Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir over suspected terror links, including to the 2002 Bali bombings, as he walked out of jail after serving time for lesser charges.

Bashir was detained again without incident, but earlier his supporters hurled rocks and firebombs at police.

The frail Bashir, accused of leading the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah network, was served a warrant as he left a central Jakarta jail after 18 months in prison for immigration offences.

"What we witnessed just now was an illegal action from the police. We have not seen that warrant," said Munarman, a lawyer for Bashir.

Police had tried to question Bashir earlier this week regarding attacks, including the October 2002 bomb blasts in Bali that killed 202 people. He refused to cooperate.

Back in detention, Bashir would now be questioned about numerous cases, said Suyitno Landung, chief criminal investigator for the national police.

"Plenty of bombing cases. These are cases we have been investigating from 1999 to 2002, including the latest, the Bali bombings."

In the October 2002 attack on the resort island, 202 people died, most foreign tourists. Bashir has consistently denied links to that and any terrorist acts, as well as to Jemaah Islamiah.

His re-arrest will probably further enrage his militant supporters and anger Muslim leaders and politicians who accuse authorities of bowing to U.S. pressure over Bashir's case. Washington has said it wants Bashir, 65, to stay behind bars.

Hundreds of his supporters were outside the prison, and many clashed with police before the smiling cleric was taken away.

The protesters tore up paving stones to hurl at police, who threw the stones back and responded with tear gas, clubs and water cannons in running battles in the early morning that left many injured on both sides.


Police had said earlier they would re-arrest Bashir over allegations he had violated various anti-terrorism statutes. Under Indonesian law he could be held for up to six months for questioning and investigation before formal charges are laid.

Asked for his reaction to being re-arrested, a smiling Bashir said: "There is no problem. There is no problem. I'm fine." Police then drove him to police headquarters.

According to a police warrant shown this week to reporters, allegations against him include terror conspiracy, plotting attacks, and ties to Jemaah Islamiah, believed to be responsible for violence throughout Southeast Asia.

Previous charges against Bashir of treason and of leading Jemaah Islamiah had been dismissed or overturned.

"Before we investigated Abu Bakar Bashir on a limited scale, but there are perpetrators who always linked him as the leader of a closed and secretive organisation," said Landung.

National police spokesman Inspector-General Paiman told reporters: "This is not pressure from the United States. We made the arrest due to terrorism problems."

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Washington welcomed the move but denied charges of intervention in Indonesia's legal system.

"There is extensive evidence of Abu Bakar Bashir's leadership role and personal involvement in terrorist activities, but the decision to pursue the prosecution is the Indonesian authorities'," he said.

Arresting Bashir and the prospect of a fresh trial pose a challenge to the world's most populous Muslim nation ahead of presidential elections in July, especially with sentiment for Washington at an all-time low over the war in Iraq and U.S. policies towards the Muslim world in general.

In the past two weeks, Bashir has entertained a stream of visitors at the prison, from Islamist politicians to mainstream Muslim leaders, all accusing the United States of meddling.

"Clearly this is intervention from foreigners, namely the United States," said well-known Muslim leader Din Syamsuddin.