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Indonesia Denies Terror Suspect Hambali is in the Country


The Indonesian government is denying reports that al-Qaida's chief operative in Southeast Asia is in the country. But officials say they do want Riduan Isamuddin, who is also known as Hambali, turned over to Jakarta. The man suspected of planning dozens of terror attacks was arrested a few days ago in Thailand.

Indonesia's national police chief, General Da'i Bachtiar, says he does not know where Riduan Isamuddin is. The man known as Hambali is suspected of leading the regional terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah.

Thai officials said Mr. Hambali, who is also described as al-Qaida's Southeast Asia chief, was in U.S. custody after his arrest in the Thai city of Ayutthaya earlier this week. Thai officials say Mr. Hambali has been sent to Indonesia.

A U.S. Embassy official in Thailand confirms that Mr. Hambali is in U.S. custody, but would not say where. Indonesian officials say he is not in their country. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda says his government is working with the United States to fight terrorism. He adds that Indonesia does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, but he is certain Jakarta will get access as soon as possible to documents and information about any interrogation of Mr. Hambali. Indonesian officials have hailed the arrest of the 36-year-old militant as an important victory in the war against terrorism. The group he allegedly leads, Jemaah Islamiyah, has been blamed for last October's terrorist bombing on the island of Bali that killed 202 people. He also is wanted in connection with the August 5 bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12. U.S. officials say Mr. Hambali met in Malaysia with two of the hijackers responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington. The Singaporean, Malaysian and Philippine governments also accuse him of plotting attacks in their countries. The top Indonesian investigator in the Bali bombing case, General I. Made Pastika has said Mr. Hambali should be extradited to Indonesia. Sidney Jones, an analyst with the European think-tank, the International Crisis Group, says putting Mr. Hambali on trial in Indonesia would help ordinary people realize there is a terrorist problem in the country.

"If he is kept in U.S. custody in Bagram Air Force base [Afghanistan] or Guantanamo or someplace outside Indonesia, the idea of the United States being the mastermind of a conspiracy to talk about terrorism in Indonesia is simply going to gather strength," he said. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was among the regional leaders who applauded Mr. Hambali's arrest.

Mr. Downer describes him as the chief link between al-Qaida and JI, and said he is almost certainly responsible for the terrorist bombing in Bali. The attack in Bali killed 88 Australian tourists.