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Islamic Group Wants Independent Bali Investigation - 2002-10-23

An Indonesian group representing 60 Islamic organizations wants an independent investigation into the bombing in Bali that left at least 180 people dead. The Indonesian Council of Ulama also opposes the arrest of an Indonesian cleric, suspected of being involved in terrorism.

The Indonesian Council of Ulama, known as the MUI, says that since Bali bombing, the world has turned against Indonesia. "Really as a nation, Indonesian nation and as a Muslim community we are feeling that we are being politically hostage," says Din Syamsuddin, the MUI secretary general. "Because we believe that there has been a global scenario against us, not only against the Muslims but against the Indonesian people."

Immediately after the October 12 bombing in Bali, MUI leaders condemned the attack and sent its condolences to the family of the victims. At least 180 people were killed and hundreds were injured when explosions ripped through a crowded tourist area in Bali 10 days ago. Most of the casualties were foreign tourists, mainly Australians.

Indonesia is leading a team of more than 100 investigators from Australia, the United States, and other nations - in hunting for those who carried out the bombing.

Mr. Syamsuddin says each of the countries involved in the investigation has its own agenda - which may affect the outcome. That is why the MUI has wants an independent committee made up of representatives from Muslim organizations to work with investigators. "Independent in the sense of not only that we don't have trust to our government and security apparatus - but also to include the independent people from our community," says Mr. Syamsuddin.

The MUI also opposes the arrest of Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. Police arrested Mr. Bashir on Saturday. Mr. Bashir was not arrested in connection to the Bali blast. Authorities instead have linked him to a series of bombings across Indonesia on Christmas Eve in 2000.

The United States and regional governments say Mr. Bashir heads Jemaah Islamiah - a group they say has links to al-Qaida. Later Wednesday, Washington is expected to designate Jemaah Islamiah, or JI, an international terrorist organization.

Mr. Bashir has repeatedly denied any links to terrorism and the Bali bombing. His arrest came after a suspected terrorist held by the United States, Omar al Faruq, said Mr. Bashir helped plan terror attacks in Southeast Asia. Mr. Syamsuddin says that evidence is not enough. "So this kind of thing should be clarified. Cannot just base on the report of a mysterious man like Omar al Faruq - then one Muslim leader like Bashir being detained or in custody," he says. "It's very unfair, unjust and therefore, I think Muslim leaders will issue their stance against all kinds of things."

Mr. Syamsuddin says the MUI supports new anti-terror laws the Indonesian government imposed in the wake of the Bali bombing, if it is used in fairly.