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Indonesian Police Link Hambali to String of Bombings - 2003-08-21

Indonesian police have linked Hambali, the man believed to be al-Qaida's chief operative in Southeast Asia, to a string of bombings across the country. Police say that is reason enough for the United States to accept Jakarta's demand that Mr. Hambali be extradited to stand trial in Indonesia.

Indonesia's chief of detectives, General Erwin Mapasseng, says Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali, coordinated a bombing campaign on Christmas Eve 2000. Nearly 30 blasts rocked churches across nine Indonesian cities that night.

General Mapasseng says he can confirm that police have forensic evidence that bombings on December 24, 2000, were carried out by a group Mr. Hambali controlled.

General Mapasseng says Mr. Hambali is also linked to five bomb attacks in the city of Medan between May and August 2000, a bombing at a U.S.-owned mine, and a blast at the home of the Philippines ambassador.

In 2001, police say Mr. Hambali's group bombed a shopping mall in Jakarta and a church on Sumatra.

Last year, police say Mr. Hambali was involved in the bombing of two nightclubs on the island of Bali that killed 202 people, the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia's history. For these reasons, General Mapasseng says Mr. Hambali should be extradited to Indonesia.

The general says that given all the past cases he is connected to Mr. Hambali should be extradited to take responsibility for past bombings and to see what plans he had for future bombings in Indonesia.

Mr. Hambali was arrested last week in Thailand, and turned over to U.S. authorities. As a member of al-Qaida, the United States says he is linked to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

In Asia, he is wanted for leading the regional militant group, Jemaah Islamiyah, or J.I. The governments of Australia, Malaysia and the Philippines also want him extradited to their countries to face trial for various terrorist plots.

Police have linked J.I. to the August 5 bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12 people. But General Mapasseng says they are still investigating whether Mr. Hambali was involved.

Analysts say Indonesia would benefit enormously if Mr. Hambali were extradited to stand trial here. Many Indonesians have been reluctant to believe that a terrorist network could be operating in the country - but trying Mr. Hambali held here would change their minds.

Speaking at his trial Thursday, the alleged spiritual leader of J.I., Abu Bakar Bashir accused the United States of fabricating evidence linking him to terrorism.

The 65-year-old Islamic cleric faces up to 15 years in prison on charges he was involved in the Christmas Eve bombings and a plot to assassinate Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.