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Indonesian Radical Group to Volunteer in US-Iraq War - 2003-03-27

A small Indonesian radical group says it is signing up volunteers to go fight against the United States in Iraq, a move the Indonesian government opposes.

A senior member of the Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, says the program to register volunteers to fight in Iraq is going well.

Jafar Sidiq says the group opened registration for mujahideen to go to Iraq to help their Muslim brothers who he says are under attack by the United States.

Mr. Jafar says the FPI accepts male volunteers between the ages of 17 and 50, and 24,000 registration forms have been distributed. Six hundred young men have signed up so far, he says, many of whom had to travel to an FPI office in Jakarta to do so.

What is not clear is how, exactly, the volunteers will actually get to Iraq.

Mr. Jafar says the FPI is asking the Indonesian government to help the group get money for travel to Iraq. He says, if the government will not help, they will find another way to send people.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population. Most people practice a very moderate form of Islam. The FPI is one of a handful of small radical groups representing more extreme views. The group is best known for carrying out attacks on bars and restaurants in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

The FPI says the attacks are meant to stop those businesses from selling alcohol. But with hundreds of restaurants in the capital, the selective nature of the attacks suggests to many that the FPI is trying to extort money from businesses in exchange for what it calls "protection."

While Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri condemns the U.S.-led military action in Iraq, the government does not condone sending volunteers to fight in Iraq. And officials say that, under no circumstances, will the government provide funding.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa says he suspects the sign-up is merely symbolic - such as when dozens of young men signed up to fight the United States in Afghanistan in 2001. He says few, if any, actually went. "I think this is similar to that," he said. "They have this registration for those who want to volunteer. But I don't think there will be any follow-up to that."

Protesters have marched outside the U.S. and British embassies every day since the war started in Iraq. But the demonstrations have remained small and peaceful.