Tue, 04 Feb 2003

Police arrest alleged Singapore JI leader

Tiarma Siboro and Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Police officers in Riau said on Monday they had arrested the suspected leader of the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) base from Singapore, but added that they had no evidence linking him to the Bali bombing.

An Indonesian-born Singaporean citizen, Mas Selamet Kastari was arrested on Sunday night in the city of Tanjungpinang on Bintan island in Riau, said Police Detective Chief Comr. Gen. Erwin Mappaseng.

Selamet was a JI wakalah for Singapore, Erwin said, using JI's term for country leader.

He is wanted by Singapore for allegedly plotting to crash an airplane into the Changi international airport.

"We had been following him (Selamet) since he left the town of Dumai in Sumatra by ferry," Erwin told reporters.

Erwin said they nabbed Selamet while he was apparently waiting for someone at Tanjungpinang port. "We found him carrying a fake identity card and a fake passport," he added.

Police believe the alleged JI leader entered Indonesia last year, as he avoided a crack down on suspected JI members in Singapore which began in December 2001.

Meanwhile in East Java, According to AFP, a Malaysian national was arrested in Gresik, East Java, on Monday and believed to be connected to the financing of the Oct. 12 attacks. However, other sources in Gresik were quoted as saying an Indonesian man, who was an accomplice of key suspect Amrozi, was arrested for weapons possession.

An underground organization, JI is said to be struggling for a pan-southeast Asian Islamic state. The group reportedly moved its headquarters from Malaysia to the Indonesian town of Surakarta, Central Java in 1999. JI's alleged spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, is a Muslim cleric and leader of the Ngukri Islamic boarding school in Surakarta.

Ba'asyir spent several years in Malaysia during President Soeharto's crackdown on Islamic hardliners. He returned to Indonesia in 1999.

The United Nations officially labeled JI a terrorist group following the Oct. 12 Bali bombing, which killed at least 190 people, mainly foreign tourists.

For Singapore, Selamet's arrest could mark a breakthrough in its attempt to wipe out JI's operations in its own backyard.

The city-state has yet to confirm Selamet's identity.

"Our Indonesian counterparts have informed us of the arrest of a Singaporean who is purportedly Mas Selamet Kastari," the ministry of home affairs said in a statement as quoted by AFP.

"We will be taking action to confirm his identity. We will continue to work closely with our Indonesian counterparts," it said.

It is also not immediately clear whether Indonesia would deport Selamet without an extradition agreement with Singapore.

Asked whether Selamet might be involved in the Bali bombing, Erwin said the investigation into that link had just begun.

Since last week police had begun widening the investigation on the suspected links between the Bali bombing and JI.

Several of the 29 arrested suspects claimed to be members of JI or knew about the organization. But only last week did police confirm that they would examine Ba'asyir's involvement in the bombing, after key suspects admitted he knew about the operation.

In Bali, prosecutors said that police had missed last Friday's deadline to submit the revised case file for Amrozi, one of four key suspects in the terror attacks and the first one police arrested last year.

Prosecutors need Amrozi's dossiers now to prepare his case for the court and start the trial this month as planned.