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Guantanamo Handover Unlikely, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry Says

FILE - The front gate of Camp Delta is shown at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Indonesian officials said Friday that alleged Southeast Asian terror chief Hambali won't likely return home if President Barack Obama's plan to close the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prevails.

Hambali, nom de guerre Riduan Isomuddin, is a former leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the military branch of al-Qaida in Southeast Asia that is accused of spearheading a string of bombings in Indonesia, including a 2002 attack on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

Hambali allegedly has ties to two of the hijackers responsible for attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001, but he has denied any role.

On March 8, Indonesian security officials said the government would find a way to ensure he would never return home.

FILE - Hambali, aslo known as Riduan Isamuddin
FILE - Hambali, aslo known as Riduan Isamuddin

Obama's plan, which involves transferring about two-thirds of the current 91 detainees to U.S. soil and sending the others to foreign countries, was rejected by Congress last month. Republicans have said they are preparing a legal challenge in the event Obama presses ahead with the plan.

‘High threats’

"Hambali is considered a high threat," said Arrmanatha Nasir, a spokesperson for Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Seventeen of the detainees are considered as high threats to the United States, and according to the information received, Hambali is one of them. If he is considered a high threat by them, he will most likely still be detained by the United States."

Nasir emphasized Indonesia's commitment to ensuring that Hambali never poses a security threat to Indonesia or other countries.

But according to Al Chaidar, a terrorism expert at Malikussaleh University in Aceh, U.S. national security officials may feel pressured to return Hambali to Indonesia.

"If Hambali is not sent back home to Indonesia, [new members of Jamaah Islamiyah] will likely even make new attacks [on Americans]," he said.

But Al Chaidar also said he believes Hambali no longer poses a threat to Indonesians, because al-Qaida no longer views Indonesia as a military target. Instead, he says the group sees it as a ground for proselytizing and recruitment.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s deputy speaker of parliament said Hambali, should he be returned, would be arraigned and legally processed according to Indonesian law.

Born in Cianjur, West Java, in 1964, Hambali was arrested in Thailand in 2003 during a joint CIA-Thailand police operation.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Indonesia service.