Sat, 03 Apr 2004

Police up pressure on Ba'asyir case

P.C. Naommy, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Police are intensifying their investigation into Abu Bakar Ba'asyir's suspected involvement in terrorist activities in the country.

National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said on Friday that police had gathered sufficient evidence and testimonies that could implicate the Muslim cleric in terrorist attacks across Indonesia.

"I am not so sure whether he can be said to be a suspect. I haven't received the report yet. But yes, we're heading in that direction (declaring Ba'asyir a suspect)," said Da'i on Friday.

Ba'asyir, who has been labeled a terrorist leader by neighboring countries Singapore, Australia and the United States, is currently serving an 18-month jail term for an immigration violation and document forgery. His release is due on April 29.

Da'i's statement came barely one month after the U.S. handed over the latest transcript of their interrogation of suspected terrorist Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, who has been detained under U.S. custody at an undisclosed place since his capture last August in Thailand.

The Indonesian-born Hambali is believed to be a leader in both regional terrorist network Jamaah Islamiyah and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

Indonesia has been hit by a series of terrorist attacks since December 2000, including the Bali bombings that killed over 202 people on Oct. 12, 2002 and the Aug. 5, 2003 JW Marriott Hotel attack that killed 14 people.

Key suspects in the Bali bombings, most of whom have been sentenced to either death or life, admitted to meeting Ba'asyir before the blasts, but fell short of implicating him.

Antiterrorism Director VI Brig. Gen. Pranowo at National Police Headquarters said the investigation into the cleric had been going on for some time.

"We have already run a number of checks on the cleric since the Bali bombing trials, but the evidence and facts we had gathered were not strong enough. We're now working on some new evidence," said Pranowo.

He said police would not use material from the U.S.' Hambali interrogation, as it had no legal validity as evidence under the Indonesian judiciary.

Instead, the police will use another source of information that was submittable to Indonesian courts, but he declined to elaborate.

Ba'asyir's lawyer, Mohammad Ali, told The Jakarta Post on Friday that the police planned to question his client next Wednesday. He said four officers from police headquarters had come to Salemba Penitentiary on Thursday to ask permission to bring Ba'asyir to headquarters for questioning.

After discussing the matter with Mohammad, the interrogation was scheduled for March 7 at National Police Headquarters.

Mohammad said the police summons only mentioned that a dossier on the cleric needed to be drawn up in accordance with the Antiterrorism Law.