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Indonesia Prepares for Trial of Those Accused in Bali Bombing Attack - 2003-03-07


Indonesian authorities held a ceremony Saturday in which the last remains of the 200-victims of the Bali terrorist bombing were cremated. It was a symbolic end to the first phase of the Bali bombing investigation.

Balinese leaders and foreign diplomats gathered Saturday for a simple cremation ceremony of the last unclaimed and mostly unidentified remains of those killed in the Bali bomb blast. The ashes were sprinkled on a nearby beach in accordance with local custom.

An officer with the Australian Consulate in Bali, Brent Hall, spoke at the ceremony. "This is another very sad occasion on the road to recovery from the tragic events of last October. At the same time I should express our thanks to the forensic experts and others who have worked so tirelessly on the identification process," he said.

Forensic work has ended and the focus now is on the upcoming trials of the Bali bomb suspects. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, few people in Indonesia thought that other Indonesians could be to blame. Rizal Mallarengeng is an analyst with the Jakarta research group, the Freedom Institute. "There was speculation it was the CIA, it was the police, it was the military, it was the fundamentalist, it was anybody. But now we know it was not those people - it was the Muslim militants who wanted to revenge against the West," he said.

More than 30-people have been arrested in connection with the October 12 bombing in Bali. A van packed with explosives was detonated on a busy tourist street killing roughly 200-people, many of them Australian tourists.

Among the suspects in custody is the plot's alleged mastermind, Imam Samudra and three brothers, Ali Ghufron, Ali Imron and Amrozi - all of whom authorities say have confessed. Police say the suspects are members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terrorist network allegedly linked to the al-Qaida network. The group wants to create an Islamic state across Southeast Asia.

In this mostly Muslim nation, the trials could be sensitive. Political analysts say the Indonesian police want to bolster their public credibility before the trials begin.

Last November, Indonesia's national police chief allowed reporters to film a meeting with Amrozi, the man whom police say owned the car used in the bombing.

The suspect was filmed smiling and waving to reporters in what appeared to be a friendly chat. Similarly, suspect Ali Imron was televised last month doing a reenactment of his role in the bombing. Sidney Jones, an analyst with the Jakarta office of the International Crisis Group, said "the Indonesian police wanted to convince the Indonesian public that this could have been done by a small group of well-trained Indonesians and not by a foreign radical group and the reconstruction probably served an important domestic purpose."

In addition to the police, Academic Dede Oetomo says the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri is under pressure. It does not want to lose its international credibility because of the Bali bomb and the trials. "There is everything at stake. This government is pretty weak," he said.

Police have also arrested Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. The 64-year-old cleric is believed to be the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a charge he denies.

Mr. Bashir was arrested last year for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate President Megawati and for his alleged involvement in a different string of bombings. Police have said he will be charged in connection to the Bali bomb, but it has not happened yet.

For that reason, Ms. Jones says his trial may be seen as more controversial. "And if Bashir played a role it is going to probably be a more indirect one and one that is much, much harder to prove in court. It may be… that the only thing that he can be convicted of is membership in a terrorist organization if they can prove conclusively that he was the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. And they can charge him under the anti-terrorist legislation," she said. "But it is not going to convince the Indonesian public that he was involved in violence."

But Mr. Mallarengeng, from the Freedom Institute, says Mr. Bashir's popularity within Indonesia has been exaggerated. He points to the fact that mass demonstrations threatened to coincide with Mr. Bashir's arrest simply failed to materialize. And few are likely to be angered enough by Mr. Bashir's trial to take any action. "If you conduct a poll people might be divided on this, but it is not enough to destabilize the government like some people thought before," he said.

The first trial expected to take place is that of Mr. Amrozi. Court proceedings are expected to begin next month.

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