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Indonesian Islamic Cleric Denies Involvement with al-Qaida

An Islamic cleric in Indonesia is denying allegations that he was involved in a plot to blow up Western embassies in Southeast Asia this month. But officials in the United States and Asian countries say the man, Abu Bakar Bashir, is suspected of planning terrorist attacks in the region.

Prominent Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir vehemently denies that the group he reportedly leads, Jemaah Islamiyah, planned to attack embassies. According to recent news reports, the allegations came from Omar al-Faruq, a suspected member of the al-Qaida terrorist network. Mr. al-Faruq was arrested in Indonesia in June and now is held by the U.S. military in another country.

"The report is 100 percent lie," he said. "Firstly, I do not know who is al-Faruq. Secondly, what do they mean with Jemaah Islamiyah? Jemaah Islamiyah comes from the Arabic language and means groups with Islamic character and there are many in Indonesia."

Mr. Bashir told VOA Wednesday that the foreign media has distorted the true nature of Jemaah Islamiyah as well as remarks he made earlier expressing support for Osama bin-Laden, leader of the Al-Qaida terrorist group. He spoke at his school in Solo, in central Indonesia.

Indonesian news media are reporting extensively on an article by Time magazine about Mr. al-Faruq. The article says he has confessed to being a senior al-Qaida leader in Southeast Asia and that he coordinated a series of terrorist attacks in the region. The article also says Al-Qaida received "financial and operational assistance" from the Jemaah Islamiyah "militant group."

Mr. al-Faruq is reported to have admitted planning attacks on the embassies of the United States, Britain and Australia last week, around the September 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States. He also is said to have planned to assassinate Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Since he has been detained, a number of suspects have been arrested and none of the attacks was carried out.

Indonesian authorities have questioned Mr. Bashir but have not arrested him. However, Indonesian police Wednesday said they have arrested a man for questioning about Mr. al-Faruq's activities.

Mr. Bashir also denies allegations he and his organization have ties to al-Qaida and Osama bin-Laden.

"About my connection with al-Qaida, it does not exist," he said. "But religiously there's a connection. Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden are fighting to uphold Islam. So automatically I have a religious connection. There hasn't been any organizational or physical contact with him."

Despite his claims about Al-Qaida and Bin Laden, most Muslims have condemned the organization and its terrorist acts as anti-Muslim and contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Authorities in Singapore and Malaysia are seeking Mr. Bashir's arrest. Recently, Singapore arrested 21 people it suspects of being involved in the most recent plots and says many of them are members of the organization Mr. Bashir is believed to lead.