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Indonesia to Keep High-Profile Cleric in Jail After Sentence Expires - 2004-04-29

Investigators in Indonesia say they will keep a high-profile Muslim cleric in prison after his current sentence on immigration violations expires Friday. Police suspect Abu Bakar Bashir of being an influential figure in the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Abu Bakar Bashir is due to be released Friday after serving an 18-month sentence for immigration violations. But police in Jakarta announced he would be immediately taken back into custody under new terrorism legislation that allows the detention of suspects for six months without trial.

"Investigators decide it is quite enough evidence against Abu Bakar Bashir ? in here connected with the organization of al-Jemaah al-Islamiyah," said Maj. Gen. Bashir Ahmad Barmawi, the police spokesman.

Bashir has denied allegations he is the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the regional militant group behind the October 2002 nightclub bombing on the island of Bali and last year's car bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

At Bashir's trial, where he was convicted for immigration violations, the judge dismissed terrorism charges saying there was not enough evidence to link him to the Jemaah al-Islamiyah group.

But General Barmawi says the police now have evidence from a number of captured terrorists that the 65-year-old Muslim cleric was involved in terrorist activities and training militants in camps in the Philippines.

Indonesia has been coming under increasing pressure from the United States and Australia to keep Bashir in prison.

Bashir's lawyers say that the decision to re-arrest their client is solely the result of international pressure and have waged a highly emotive campaign to appeal to nationalist sentiment in the country.

Bashir was questioned Wednesday, but refused to cooperate with police. In the past he has made no secret of his hostility to the West, and the United States in particular. Although he denies that he has anything to do with violent action, he is quick to defend militants who have already been convicted of terrorist crimes.

At least 17 of the men convicted for the Bali and Marriott bombings were pupils at the Islamic boarding school that Bashir founded and ran until his arrest. A number of students from the school have been demonstrating outside the prison, and have threatened a violent campaign against authorities if Bashir's detention continues.