Fri, 03 Jan 2003

Police deny plans to shut down Ba'asyir-led school

The Jakarta Post, Semarang/Jakarta

Central Java Police denied on Thursday they had threatened to shut down an Islamic boarding school, founded by detained militant cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, over its alleged links with Jamaah Islamiyah. Opposition has grown against the possible move.

Head of the center for command and operational control at Central Java Police Sr. Comr. Hari Suprapto refuted his boss' statement threatening to close down the boarding school.

"The statement that the police will shut down the Ngruki boarding school is nonsense. Should Ba'asyir be proven (to have links with JI), legal sanctions will only be imposed on him without involving his institution," Suprapto said.

He said the authorities would certainly take measures against the boarding school but would not hastily use repressive action against it.

Earlier on Wednesday, Central Java Police chief Insp. Gen. Didi Widayadi asked the local administration to take measures against the Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school at Ngruki village, Sukohardjo regency.

"There is an indication of links between Ba'asyir and Jamaah Islamiyah (JI)," he told journalists in the provincial capital, Semarang.

"I have talked with and asked the Central Java government, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI), the religious affairs office and other relevant local authorities to put the boarding school in order," he added.

Didi said the school prohibited its students from saluting the national red-and-white flag and that it embraced "exclusivity" among the general public. Aside from that, Ba'asyir's Indonesian citizenship was in doubt, he added.

The provincial police chief said should Al-Mukmin refuse to cooperate with the local authorities, the boarding school could face closure.

"In principle, there should not be a state within a state. That's why the police are continuing to investigate relations between Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the Al-Mukmin and Jamaah Islamiyah," Didi said.

Apparently contradicting Didi's statement, Suprapto said the police had no legally admissible evidence on relations between the boarding school and JI.

Similar denials were also made by National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar and Minister of Religious Affairs Said Agil Hussein Al-Munawwar in Jakarta on Thursday.

Police accused JI, widely believed to be the main ally of the al-Qaeda terrorist network in the region, of being behind the deadly Oct. 12 bombings on the resort island of Bali.

Ba'asyir, 64, has strongly denied any knowledge of JI, accusing Western intelligence agencies of creating a fictional terror group with the aim of discrediting Islam. He has also denied claims that JI operates in Singapore and Malaysia.

In another development, Didi Widayadi made a surprise visit to Sahal Mahfudz, a senior Nahdlatul Ulama leader who is also a co- chairman of MUI, on Thursday, at the latter's residence in Pati regency, Central Java.

The visit was likely aimed at seeking support from Muslim leaders for the possible move to close down the Al-Mukmin boarding school.

Didi is also scheduled to meet another NU figure, Habib Luthfi, in the Central Java city of Pekalongan on Friday.

The plan to possibly close down the schools met opposition from Muslim leaders and government officials, who warned the police against doing anything rash as it could spark religious resentment.

"There is no need to close down the Ngruki boarding school because its impacts could be worse," said respected NU figure M. Cholil Bisri, a deputy chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly.

"The government should use persuasive measures to settle the problem," he advised.

Deputy chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) Solahuddin Wahid said the police had to involve Muslim leaders to talk about the possibility of revising the curriculum in Ngruki.

"If deemed problematic, the curriculum should be revised first. Should it (the school) directly be closed down, it could worsen the situation," he said.

Head of the Central Java religious office Habib Toha also lodged a similar protest, saying, "A school cannot be dissolved. If its leader is proven to have been involved in a crime, he must be punished as an individual".

The boarding school was established by Ba'asyir 30 years ago, along with its co-founder, the late Abdullah Sungkar, another Muslim hard-liner.

Ba'asyir, reportedly a spiritual leader of JI, is currently being held for alleged involvement in church bombings on Christmas Eve in 2000. He is also accused of involvement in a plot to assassinate President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Investigators have so far failed to link Ba'asyir with the Bali bombings, which left more than 190 people dead, mostly foreigners.