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Terrorism, Suicide Attacks Forbidden by Islamic Law, Muslim Scholars Say - 2003-12-17

An influential group of Muslim scholars in Indonesia have declared that suicide attacks, and terrorism in general, is forbidden by Islamic law.

Members of the Indonesian Ulama Council, which brings together Muslim scholars to discuss the implementation of Islamic law, say that killing - especially of innocents - is contrary to the teachings of the religion.

The move comes after increasing criticism that Indonesia's powerful Islamic groups were doing too little to condemn terrorism in the country.

The ruling says that killing innocent people is forbidden, and that seeking martyrdom with such actions as suicide bombings is only justified in war zones. It states clearly that Indonesia is not a war zone.

A regional terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, has used Islam to justify a series of bloody attacks in Indonesia. They include last year's bombing of a nightclub on Bali, which killed more than 200 people, and August's attack on an U.S. run hotel, which killed 12.

Captured members of the group say the attacks were part of a holy war against the West, particularly the United States. They accuse the West of waging a war against Muslims.

The new ruling specifically excludes religious struggle, or jihad, which it says is an obligation of every Muslim when the religion is under attack.

The ruling is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on JI and similar groups, but it is an important expression of the hostility the majority of Indonesians have toward terrorism and terrorists.

Dozens of members of JI have been rounded up, but analysts think many more are still at large, hiding in the community. Observers hope the new ruling will make their attempts to evade justice more difficult.

Members of the council also ruled that doing business with banks that charge or pay interest is against Islam. However, that ruling is controversial and will be further debated.