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Indonesian Police Question Islamic Cleric Linked to Terrorism - 2002-11-02

Indonesian police question an Islamic cleric allegedly involved in terrorist attacks in Indonesia. Abu Bakar Bashir is being held in a police hospital in Jakarta.

Indonesian police arrested cleric Abu Bakar Bashir two weeks ago in Solo, the central Java town where he teaches at an Islamic boarding school. His transfer to Jakarta and police questioning had been delayed due to Mr. Bashir's hospitalization for breathing difficulties.

Regional governments and the United States say that Mr. Bashir is the head of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI a regional terrorist group that they say has links to the al-Qaida network.

But authorities here arrested Mr. Bashir on suspicion he was involved in a series of deadly church bombings across Indonesia on Christmas Eve in 2000. So far Indonesia has not linked Mr. Bashir to the October 12 bombing in Bali or any JI suspected terrorist plots in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Bashir has repeatedly denied all charges of terrorism. He has tried and failed to sue the government of Singapore for slander when it suggested he was involved in a foiled plot to bomb Western targets in the city-state.

Washington, the European Union, regional governments and the United Nations have recently designated JI an international terrorist organization. U.N. member states are now obligated to block the group's financing and to stop any alleged members of the group from crossing international borders.

The arrest of Mr. Bashir, a popular Muslim cleric, has stirred controversy within Indonesia - a country made up of 210 million people, the majority of whom are Muslim.

Every major Islamic organization has condemned the Bali bombing. But some leaders warn that an unjustified arrest of Mr. Bashir in the Bali aftermath could backfire against authorities by turning Islamic groups against the government. Some also charge that the Indonesian government is caving in to foreign pressure, by arresting Mr. Bashir without sufficient evidence against him.