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Indonesia Police Defend Non-Arrest of Islamic Cleric - 2002-09-17

Indonesian police say there is not enough evidence to justify the arrest of Abu Bakar Bashir, an Islamic cleric with alleged links to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Police also say they had nothing to do with the arrest of an suspected al-Qaida operative in Indonesia, who is believed to have links to Mr. Bashir.

Indonesia's national police spokesman says the only information they have about Abu Bakar Bashir's alleged links to the al-Qaida terrorist network comes from the media.

The American news magazine Time reported this week that a top al-Qaida operative, Kuwaiti national Omar al-Faruq, was arrested in Indonesia in June and sent to the United States.

He reportedly told American authorities he was a top al-Qaida operative and that Mr. Bashir provided personnel for a plan to attack U.S. embassies across Southeast Asia and a separate plot to assassinate Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Police spokesman Brigadier General Saleh Saaf said there is no evidence Mr. Bashir wanted to assassinate the president or that he has links to al-Qaida. But he adds that police are looking anything that might confirm the media report.

A 64-year-old Islamic cleric, Mr. Bashir is believed to be the leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic group some regional governments say has ties to al-Qaida. In the last 10 months, Singapore has arrested dozens of JI members for allegedly plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets in the city-state. Authorities in Singapore say Mr. Bashir was involved in those plots.

The Indonesian government says it has not seen any proof of these charges, but continues to monitor the cleric.

Mr. Bashir has repeatedly denied any links to terrorists and has even brought a defamation suit in Singapore.

A number of American embassies across Southeast Asia were closed last week due to concerns they maybe targeted during the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.