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Indonesian Police Connect Bali Bombing Suspect With Islamic Cleric - 2002-11-11


Indonesian police now say there is a connection between their top suspect in last month's Bali bombing and an Indonesian cleric whom Washington says is linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The October 12 blast at a crowded Balinese nightclub killed at least 180 people, most of them foreign tourists.

Indonesia's top investigator into the Bali bombing says a bombing suspect now in custody, identified as "Amrozi," was once a student of the Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. Police arrested Mr. Amrozi last week and identified him as the owner of the Mitsubishi van that contained the explosives for the bombing.

Police General Made Pastika said Mr. Amrozi, an Indonesian, studied under Mr. Bashir when both were living in Malaysia in the 1990's. General Pastika also says that Mr. Bashir founded the Malaysian branch of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI.

The United Nations, the United States and the European Union have all classified JI as an international terrorist organization, and Washington says the group is linked to the al-Qaeda network. JI was founded to create an Islamic state across Southeast Asia.

Indonesia's Defense Minister said last week that Mr. Amrozi is a member of JI. However, the police have not yet linked Mr. Bashir, who is JI's alleged spiritual leader, to the Bali bombing.

Many top officials here say there is no evidence to suggest that JI exists in Indonesia, claiming it is confined to the country's regional neighbors. But General Pastika did say Monday that JI shares ideological links with the Indonesian Mujahidin Council, a small Indonesian group that Bashir has admitted he helped set up less than three years ago.

The police say they believe that all ten suspects in the Bali case are Indonesian nationals, whom they believe remain in the country. There have been reports that a number of the bombing conspirators had fled Indonesia for neighboring countries.

More than 180 people died in Bali when a bomb tore through two crowded nightclubs in a busy tourist district. Most of the dead were foreign tourists. Mr. Bashir has consistently denied any connection to any acts of terrorism. He told a local radio station that he has never met Mr. Amrozi.

Meanwhile, a court in the Indonesian capital dismissed a lawsuit filed by Mr. Bashir's lawyers, seeking to have him released from police detention. The lawsuit said it was a violation of the 64-year-old cleric's human rights to be arrested last month while he was undergoing hospital treatment in the Javanese town of Solo. Mr. Bashir has complained of breathing difficulties.

The South Jakarta District Court on Monday threw the case out, ruling Mr. Bashir may legally be held in a police hospital in Jakarta, where he was transferred earlier this month.

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