Wed, 25 Sep 2002

Ulemas support sought in fight against terrorists

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Maintaining its cautious stance regarding the alleged activities of international terrorist groups in the country, the government plans to consult moderate ulemas before launching an antiterrorism crackdown.

State Minister for Communications and Information Syamsul Mu'arif told reporters on Tuesday that the National Police would organize a meeting with the ulemas, who are expected to provide the advice the security authorities need to move ahead.

"We will not talk to the radical groups, but those parts of society who are able to lead us to a certain stand," Syamsul said after a limited ministerial meeting hosted by President Megawati Soekarnoputri at her residence on Jl. Teuku Umar, Central Jakarta.

Syamsul declined to elaborate further, saying that the details of the policy would be announced in one week.

It was the first meeting focusing on the terrorist threat since the revelations last week about the arrests of suspected terrorists linked to al-Qaeda, Umar al-Faruq and Seyam Reda. While Al-Faruq, who claimed to have plotted the assassination of Megawati, has been handed over to the United States, Reda is being interrogated by the National Police.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Minister of Defense Matori Abdul Djalil, Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra, National Intelligence Agency chief A.M. Hendropriyono, National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu were among those attending the meeting, which followed talks on terrorism hosted by Susilo earlier in the day.

The meeting came after U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce told Muslim leaders that his government saw indications that al-Qaeda terrorist cells were present in Indonesia.

It also came against the backdrop of a statement by the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Matthew Daley, who said in Hanoi that his country was considering whether to designate the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) radical Muslim organization operating in Southeast Asia as a terrorist group.

Singapore has openly accused Indonesian Muslim figure Abu Bakar Ba'asyir of being behind the JI, an allegation flatly denied by the Surakarta, Central Java-based cleric.

Daley, who is on a visit to Southeast Asia that includes stops in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, referred to the Jemaah Islamiah as "the Abu Bakar Ba'asyir organization", which he said would differentiate it from other groups with a similar name.

Syamsul refused to link the government's approach to moderate Muslim leaders to the allegations against Ba'asyir, who earlier this year was questioned by the National Police in connection with the Singaporean allegations against him.

"We respect U.S. opinion, but we will only follow up on data we have already obtained in accordance with the prevailing laws," Syamsul said.

Many believe that if the government arrests Ba'asyir, it risks sparking protests among hard-line Muslims, who could threaten the leadership of Megawati.

Vice President Hamzah Haz is among those who will jump to the defense of Ba'asyir should he be arrested without proper evidence.

The arrest of al-Faruq itself has sparked criticism and raised many eyebrows as it was conducted without the knowledge of the National Police, the only institution authorized by law to make carry out such an action.

Syamsul also said that in handling terrorist threats the government would soon submit to the House of Representatives the antiterrorism bill, and would also consider activating the 1999 state security law, the implementation of which was suspended due to a public outcry.

Minister of Justice Yusril said an antiterrorism law was badly needed to cope with terrorism issues.

"We face difficulties in taking any measures against the terrorist suspects without such a law as an umbrella.

"This is also the reason why we cannot arrest the masterminds behind recent unrest. Bombing and grenade-throwing can also be categorized as acts of terror," he said.