The United Nations has canceled an aid contract with a militant Muslim group chaired by Abu Bakar Bashir, who has just finished a jail term for terrorism-related offenses in Indonesia. The group was delivering food aid to victims of the recent Java earthquake.
The World Food Program had contracted the group Majelis Mujahideen Indonesia, or MMI, to deliver much-needed food to thousands of victims of last month's earthquake on the island of Java.
Barry Came, a spokesman for the World Food Program, says there was confusion, because the charity was calling itself Majelis Mujahideen, or MM. He says the U.N. agency did not realize this was the same group as MMI, which is chaired by the militant Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.
"Unfortunately, at the time and in heat of the moment when there was such a rush on, and some considerable confusion, we didn't realize M.M. was same as MMI, and affiliated with Abu Bashir, and in light of that, as of yesterday, [we] canceled the contract," he said.
Bashir was released Wednesday after serving a jail term of only 25 months in connection with the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people. He is alleged to be the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Muslim group believed to be behind that and other lethal bombings around Indonesia over a three-year period.
Bashir, a 68-year-old religious teacher, has always claimed he played no part in the Bali attack. On Thursday he told online news service Detik that such militants as Noordin Mohammad Top, who is alleged to be the mastermind behind the string of bombings, were "misguided" holy warriors.
Bashir said using violence in a peaceful area was wrong, and he called on the radicals, some of whom studied at his school, to change their methods.
The WFP's spokesman says the cancellation of the contract with Bashir's MMI group will not cause any added suffering to the earthquake victims.
"In any case, they didn't have any WFP food left to distribute: they received 95 tons of food aid, and all of that food was distributed," said Came.
Australia lost 88 citizens in the 2002 Bali bombing, and another bomb was set off outside Australia's embassy in Jakarta in 2004. The Australian government voiced its displeasure at Bashir's release from prison on Wednesday. On Thursday, Prime Minister John Howard told parliament he had sent a letter to the Indonesian president, asking for Bashir's movements to be monitored closely.