Indonesia's defense minister says the evidence suggests that a prominent Islamic cleric was involved in last month's bomb attack in Bali. It is the first time the cleric has been publicly linked to that bombing by an Indonesian official. Indonesian Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil notes that several key Indonesian suspects in the Bali investigation have been linked to the alleged leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group. That man is Abu Bakar Bashir, a 64-year-old Muslim cleric now in Indonesian custody. Mr. Bashir, who lived and taught in Malaysia for several years, is the alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI. The two main suspects arrested so far in the Bali investigation, Indonesians Imam Samudra and Amrozi, both lived in Malaysia in the 1990s, where both were students of Mr. Bashir. The alleged operational leader of JI, Riduan Isamuddin, was another of Mr. Bashir's students. In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Matori says if an organization has so many people involved in the Bali bombing, it is impossible for Mr. Bashir and other group leaders to have no knowledge of it. Of the two principal suspects in custody, Mr. Samudra, a computer expert, is said to have been the mastermind of the Bali plot, while Mr. Amrozi reportedly supplied the car that carried the explosives. Both have confessed their roles, according to investigators. Mr. Riduan, also known as Hambali, is still at large. At least 190 people died and hundreds were injured on October 12 when two blasts rocked a popular tourist strip on Bali. Most of those killed in the blast were foreign tourists. Top Indonesian officials have made conflicting statements about Mr. Bashir's alleged role in Muslim extremism, and the defense minister's comments about Mr. Bashir were the most damning so far.
The governments of Singapore and Malaysia charge that the cleric is the leader of JI, which is allegedly linked to the al-Qaida terror network and which wants to form an Islamic state across Southeast Asia. Mr. Matori is also backed by Washington when he says that al-Qaida is active in Southeast Asia. The defense minister warned of the possibility of more terrorist attacks in the region, like the Bali bombing. The police investigators of the Bali bombing have so far offered no opinion as to whether JI or Mr. Bashir were involved. Mr. Bashir denies all charges of terrorism. Meanwhile Malaysian authorities Friday arrested a mid-ranking member of JI. They released few details, except to say that the man is in his mid-thirties. Malaysia and Singapore have now detained scores of suspected Islamic terrorists.