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Australia Says It Wins Access to Terror Suspect - 2003-08-18

Australia says it will be allowed to question one of Southeast Asia's most wanted terror suspects, Hambali, who now is in U.S. custody.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Monday his government is talking with the United States about its interrogation of Hambali, and that Canberra will have the opportunity to direct questions to him.

Mr. Downer's update to lawmakers came as the Indonesian government repeated its request for immediate access to the former Muslim cleric. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said Indonesia understands that several countries want to try Hambali, but he said his government still expects immediate information from any interrogation, and the suspect's eventual extradition to Indonesia.

Hambali is thought to be the operational leader of a regional terrorist group that is blamed for several bomb attacks, including one that killed 88 Australians and 114 others in Bali, Indonesia, in October last year. Hambali was arrested last week in Thailand. U.S. authorities have not revealed where they are holding him.

Indonesia has no extradition treaty with the United States, but Mr. Wirajuda said access and eventual extradition could be worked out under bilateral and regional agreements on combating terrorism.

The United States and other governments accuse Hambali of being a financial conduit for al-Qaida in Southeast Asia. They also say he is the operations chief of the regional terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah, which wants to build an Islamic state in Southeast Asia.

Authorities in Malaysia say they may hold Hambali's wife in detention because she could have useful information about terror plots. Noralwizah Lee Abdulla, a Malaysian citizen, was handed over to Kuala Lumpur after her husband's arrest.