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Indonesia: Bashir Denies Ties to al-Qaida - 2002-01-24


Indonesian police questioned a leading Muslim cleric over allegations from Singapore and Malaysia that he is affiliated with the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden. Abu Bakar Bashir denies the allegations.

Brigadier General Edward Aritonang says police questioned Mr. Bashir to establish whether he is affiliated with an extremist Islamic group in Malaysia. He says Indonesia will share the results of the questioning with Malaysian and Singaporean police. Singapore and Malaysia have linked Mr. Bashir to suspected Islamic radicals recently arrested in their countries and the Philippines. Although the 64 year-old Mr. Bashir denies any links to al-Qaida, in a statement Thursday he calls its leader, Osama bin Laden, a true Islamic warrior fighting Western imperialism. He says the United States has slaughtered innocent Afghan people and millions of Muslims in other Islamic countries.

Mr. Bashir also accuses the Western news media of being biased against Islam. Mr. Bashir says the international press has confused the story, charging him falsely with terrorist connections. He says that he wants to clear his name by answering police questions. Mr. Bashir's lawyer, Achmad Mihdan, says the West equates Islam with terrorism, and that the United States accuses Indonesians having ties to al-Qaida without presenting any evidence. Mr. Mihdan says that since the September attacks on World Trade Center, the United States has been looking to blame Muslims in Southeast Asia, and particularly in Indonesia.

Mr. Bashir runs an Islamic school and advocates implementing Islamic, or Sharia, law in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population. Indonesia has come under fire from its neighbors for doing little to fight terrorism. Senior officials say the government is investigating groups for possible links to al-Qaida and that its findings will be revealed within a few days.

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