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Australian Police Chief: Bali Bombing Suspects May Have Fled Indonesia - 2002-11-11

Australia's police chief fears many of the suspects in the October 12 bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali may have fled the country. The Australian Federal Police commissioner says the bombings had the hallmarks of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Australia's Federal Police commissioner says the arrest of a leading suspect last week may have frightened other suspects conspirators out of the country.

Last week Indonesian police arrested a man known only as Amrozi, who allegedly owned the minivan used in the car bombings. The bomb destroyed a crowded bar in Bali's popular Kuta beach district, killing at least 180 people, many of the Australian tourists.

AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, in Bangkok for a drug trafficking conference, said the arrest was a major breakthrough. He said however, that it is necessary to arrest other suspects before they escape across Southeast Asia's porous borders.

Indonesian national police say they are looking for as many as 10 suspects and are convinced the group is still in Indonesia.

But Mr. Keelty is not confident of their whereabouts. "My suspicion is that because of all the media attention many of them would have fled the country and no doubt would be trying to hide somewhere in the region," he said.

Indonesian, Australian and U.S. investigators have been working for a month to find those responsible for the October 12 attack. No one has yet be charged in the bombing.

Mr. Keelty said a simultaneous attack on the U.S. consulate in Bali's capital Denpasar gives some clues about who may be responsible. "Importantly, there was the U.S. consulate [in Denpasar] where a bomb went off and I think that's the calling card of al-Qaida; clearly the calling card of the Jemaah Islamiyah," he said.

Jemaah Islamiyah is a Southeast Asian group suspected of being involved in several terror plots in the region over the past few years. Recent news reports say a Jemaah Islamiyah leader, Riduan Isamuddin, organized meetings of the group early this year in southern Thailand.

The Thai government denies the reports and Mr. Keelty said they have not been confirmed. "We have no hard evidence at this point of the investigation of any meeting here in Thailand, in southern Thailand, or indeed on any other part of Malaysia."

Mr. Keelty said such reports are unhelpful, because the important job is to identify suspects before they could carry out devastating terrorist acts.