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Indonesian Police Begin Legal Moves to Prevent Alleged Terrorist,  Bashir from Leaving Jail - 2004-04-16

In Indonesia, police have started legal moves against the alleged leader of an al-Qaida-affiliated militant organization. The move is intended to keep the militant in jail.

Abu Bakar Bashir is the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, the regional terrorist group behind a number of deadly attacks, including the nightclub bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed more than 200 people in 2002.

Bashir is behind bars, but his conviction is for immigration violations. He was due for release at the end of the month after completing an 18-month sentence. Washington and other governments were dismayed by the prospect of the 65-year-old cleric regaining his freedom.

But Indonesian authorities announced Friday that Bashir has formally been declared a terrorism suspect, allowing them to hold him for a further six months.

Indonesia's chief of police says there is evidence that could connect him with terror crimes, but did not say what that evidence was.

Bashir has never been tried for terrorism offenses. He is a fiery opponent of the United States and its allies, but has always denied playing any role in violent incidents allegedly committed by JI.

Terrorism experts reject Bashir's denials, pointing out that more than 20 of the men convicted for the Bali bombing and other JI attacks were graduates of the Islamic boarding school that he founded and ran.

Indonesian authorities have a strong record of catching and convicting militants who carry out attacks, but have been less successful against the alleged masterminds such as Bashir.

The Indonesians say their attempts to prosecute Bashir have been hampered because the United States has refused them access to potential witnesses in U.S. custody; men such as Hambali, the alleged operations chief for JI, who was captured in Thailand last year and is now being held by U.S. forces at an undisclosed location.