Ba'asyir Held for Al-Qaeda Plot Links - Indonesian police announced the arrest Monday of a top radical Islamist preacher accused of backing Al-Qaeda linked extremists who were plotting a wave of bomb attacks in Jakarta.
Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is accused of involvement in the plans allegedly being hatched by a militant cell headed by the slain leader of Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah and of having an “active role” in their training.
National police spokesman Edward Aritonang said “Al-Qaeda in Aceh” was plotting to bomb embassies and hotels in Jakarta and an independence day celebration to be attended by Indonesia’s president next week.
Ba'asyir’s arrest comes after a series of police raids which have netted over 100 terror suspects nationwide following the February discovery of a training camp for extremists in the province of Aceh.
The bespectacled Ba'asyir, 71, is known for his hardline rhetoric and has been accused of providing spiritual leadership to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a claim he denies. He served almost 26 months for conspiracy over the 2002 attacks by JI on Bali nightspots that killed 202 people, mostly Australians, before being cleared and released in 2006.
Ba'asyir was arrested Monday in West Java and taken to Jakarta police headqarters, where he told reporters: “This is engineered by America.” “We’re still finding out what the police charges are before stating our position on this matter — if they’re related to terror activities, what exactly they are,” his lawyer Achmad Cholid told AFP.
In raids in West Java on Saturday, police had arrested five suspects, seized explosive materials in a bomb factory as well as a vehicle belonging to a French national which they suspected could be used as a car bomb.
Police said the Al-Qaeda cell was formed under the leadership of Dulmatin, who was considered one of the masterminds of the 2002 carnage in Bali, and who was killed in March after the discovery of the training camp.
Aritonang said the military training in Aceh, the series of “meticulously arranged and well organised” planned attacks, and the discovery of the bomb laboratory all had a “very clear link” to Ba'asyir.
He said the group had been planning a series of attacks, including using car bombs, on at least two embassies, several international hotels and Jakarta police headquarters. Police said the militants also planned to strike an independence day celebration on August 17 to be attended by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who revealed at the weekend that a plot against him had been foiled.
The plot was inspired by the bloody siege of the Indian city of Mumbai by Islamist militants who killed 166 people in November 2008. Aritonang said Bashir’s role included funding the Aceh camp training and assigning key people to run the operation.
He said police were hunting for the owner of the car found at the bomb lab, where “the bomb seized was tested and found to cause a major explosion”. “We’re working in coordination with NCB-Interpol to find out who is the man and what role he was playing in supporting these activities as he provided the car used to hit the targets,” he said.
Counter-terrorism chief at the security ministry, Ansyaad Mbai, said the Aceh group “is linked with Jemaah Islamiyah and many other extremist groups in our country”. Australia hailed Ba'asyir’s arrest but reserved its comments until a detailed announcement by Indonesia.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said last month that Ba'asyir had returned to the police radar in May, when officers raided the headquarters of his Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) group in Jakarta and arrested three followers. JI, an Al Qaeda-inspired group whose mission is to create a Muslim caliphate across Southeast Asia, is blamed for multiple terror attacks across Indonesia, including the Bali bombings.
Ba'asyir was jailed by the Suharto regime from 1978 to 1982 for inciting people to reject the secular national ideology in favour of an Islamic state. He founded JAT in 2008 as a legitimate — although radical — body with which to continue agitating for Islamic law and militant jihad.
The United States said last month it would resume ties with Indonesian special forces after a 12-year hiatus, as part of efforts by Washington to reach out to the world’s largest Muslim nation