Accessibility links

Breaking News

Indonesia Muslim Leader Claims Militants Sent on Anti-Israeli Missions

The leader of a radical Southeast Asian Islamist group says his organization has sent more than 200 suicide bombers to western nations to attack Israeli interests and those of its supporters, in retaliation for the military offensive in Lebanon.

An Indonesian Islamic youth leader says 217 members of the newly-formed Palestine Jihad Bombing Troops are headed abroad to attack targets in countries that support Israel.

The youth leader, Suaib Didu, says the new group is an offshoot of the Jakarta-based Muslim youth movement he also heads.

Didu says the dispatched fighters have been trained in how to carry out suicide bombings, but do not intend to target civilians.

"They said that if they fight America and Israel face to face, surely they will lose," he said. "So the only way to defeat America and Israel is by using 'holy-war bomb soldiers.' Not suicide bombs, but 'holy-war bombs.' They will sacrifice themselves to protect thousands of people in Lebanon and Palestine."

Indonesian police are investigating the group's claims, and say Didu may be arrested if members of the group violate immigration laws.

Didu has warned that the United States, Britain and Australia could be targets. The Australian government said Friday it was taking the threat seriously.

But analysts say it is not clear how capable the group is. In 2001, Didu threatened to send thousands of militants to Afghanistan to fight American forces, but failed to follow through.

Sidney Jones, director of the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, says Didu has made claims of many different operations since then, but has not been able to carry them out.

"We've got to at the very least hold off on any belief that he's got something solid unless we see evidence to back it up, and I think unless there's some indication that people actually have gotten on a plane and gone outside Indonesia with the intention of waging jihad, you can't take what he says as true," he said.

Jones also says there is no evidence to back up Didu's claims some of the new group had previously fought in Afghanistan against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation.

Didu also claims the group members come from seven Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

The youth leader said Friday the more than 3,000 volunteers who had signed up for the group's missions would gather for a rally in Borneo's west Kalimantan province.

The rally went ahead Saturday but the turnout was lower than promised, with only 160 black-hooded men turning up to parade and demonstrate martial arts skills.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and the ongoing conflict in the Lebanon has sparked anti-Israeli protests. But the government has warned citizens against volunteering to join the conflict, instead offering to contribute troops to any U.N.-led peacekeeping force that may be deployed in the region.