Tue, 19 Aug 2003

Megawati calls Bush over Hambali

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, and Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri has personally called up U.S President George W. Bush to ask for access to interrogate Indonesian-born terrorist suspect Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali and to hand him over to Indonesia.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Sunday that Megawati talked with Bush over the phone on Saturday night, in which Megawati stressed that Indonesia needed a lot of information from Hambali over his alleged involvement in a series of terrorist attacks in the country.

"The President called President Bush on Saturday night, underlining that we need to have access to question Hambali and eventually to get him back to Indonesia for trial," Minister Hassan said.

"I do not know what President Bush said, but I believe he gave a very positive response to the request," the minister said.

On a separate occasion on Monday, Hassan said Indonesia needed information from Hambali to strengthen the case against Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, whom police believe to be the spiritual leader of regional terrorist group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), who is currently on trial for plotting to overthrow the government.

State prosecutors have demanded a 15-year prison term for Ba'asyir, who was reelected as chairman of the Indonesian Mujahiddin Council (MMI) recently.

Police investigators had declared Hambali a suspect in a string of Church bombings on Christmas Eve in 2000, in the Bali bombings on Oct. 12, 2002, and the JW Marriott Hotel attack on Aug. 5, 2003.

Over 30 suspects have been arrested in the Bali bombings, which killed 202 people and injured some 350 others, with one of the key defendants, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, sentenced to death early this month. He appealed the sentence.

Twelve people were killed and 147 others injured in the Marriott attack. Police are scheduled to reveal on Tuesday the names of the 11 principle suspects arrested so far.

Indonesia hopes that Hambali would reveal the extent of the links between JI and the international terrorist network al- Qaeda, and help investigators "fully uncover what is behind the Bali bombings and other past bombings in Indonesia and the possibility of future bombings," Hassan said.

With such a strong case, it is still possible to claim Hambali from U.S. custody despite the fact that Indonesia has no extradition treaty with the U.S, he said.

"We engage in mutual legal cooperation with the U.S. that opens up the possibility of the U.S. releasing Hambali to Indonesian custody, as a number of his crimes occurred in Indonesia and he is an Indonesian," he said.

He cited as an example, Oki, who was indicted for murder several years ago and was also sent back by U.S. authorities under a similar type of understanding.

Hassan also stressed that Hambali's case was different from that of Omar Al Faruq's, who was arrested by Indonesia but handed over to the U.S.

"Al Faruq is not Indonesian and the government has no clue about Al Faruq's involvement in terror attacks here," Hassan said.

Hambali, who was born Encep Nurjaman in Sukamanah, Cianjur, West Java, was arrested in Thailand earlier this week, in a joint operation by Thai intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Hambali, who is believed to be the main operative of the JI terrorist network, had not been implicated in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

Thai authorities, according to Hassan, had informed Indonesia about the arrest of Hambali before it was announced to the public and decided to hand him over the United States.

Hassan also claimed that the government was making headway in the war against terrorism following the recent arrest of Hambali and other JI members.

"We are on the winning side, but we must continue fostering international cooperation against terrorism and strengthen our own country's security," he said.