A senior American diplomat says Washington is considering designating the Southeast Asian Muslim group, Jemaah Islamiah, a terrorist organization. The group is believed to be linked to the al-Qaida network, which the American Ambassador to Indonesia warns most likely exists in the country.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Daley told reporters during a visit to Hanoi that the United States may place Jemaah Islamiah on its growing list of terrorist groups.
Jemaah Islamiah operates in much of Southeast Asia. It aims to create an Islamic state incorporating five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines. The Malaysian, Philippine and Singaporean governments say it is linked to the al-Qaida network and some members planned to attack both American and local targets in the region.
The United States closed a handful of embassies across Southeast Asia this month amid concerns that attacks against U.S. targets might take place to coincide with the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Speaking in Hanoi, Mr. Daley called Jemaah Islamiah "the Abu Bakar Bashir organization," referring to a Muslim cleric in Indonesia who has been alleged to be the leader of the JI. But he denies any involvement in terrorist activities. Despite pressure from its neighbors, the Indonesian government says there is no evidence to justify an arrest of Mr. Bashir. But authorities say they are continuing to investigate him. Meanwhile, the American ambassador to Indonesia, Ralph Boyce, says it is probable that the al-Qaida network exists in Indonesia.
"Al-Qaida, we have been saying since September 11, is in dozens and dozens and dozens of countries," he said. "Some we know and some we do not know, but we have always cautioned, just because you can not see something, it does not mean it is not there. But now we are seeing indications that they are here."
Mr. Boyce made his comments to a group of moderate Islamic leaders in Indonesia.
Mr. Boyce urged Indonesian leaders not to "shoot the messenger" by reacting with anger against the United States. Instead, he urged them to focus on confronting the danger posed by terrorist networks in their own country. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population. Its government is secular and has pledged to support the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Indonesia is made up of more than 13,000 islands, making its borders virtually impossible to patrol. Some fear that members of al-Qaida have sought refuge there since the fall of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.