Thu, 28 Aug 2003

U.S. grants RI access to question Hambali

Moch. N. Kurniawan The Jakarta Post Jakarta

The United States has granted Indonesia access to interrogate Indonesian-born terrorist suspect Hambali more than two weeks after his arrest in Thailand and his transfer to a U.S. custody.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Wednesday that he received confirmation about the permission to question Hambali from U.S. ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce.

"There was confirmation from the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia today that the Indonesian Police would be given access to interrogate Hambali," Hassan told reporters.

However, he said there was not yet a clear timetable and it was not known if there would be any conditions for the Indonesian police to interrogate Hambali, who has been implicated in the deadly Bali bombings on Oct. 12, 2002, the JW Marriot Hotel bombing in Jakarta last Oct. 5, and a string of church bombings on Christmas Eve in 2000.

Hassan went on to say that it was not necessary to challenge the interrogation of Hambali in the U.S. or in Indonesia.

"There is a common international interest to fight against terrorism under the name of multinational cooperation," he said.

With the U.S government giving Indonesian Police access to interrogate Hambali, it was the second time since the war on terror began in 2001, that police investigators have been allowed to question a terror suspect, with Indonesian connections, being held by the U.S.

The first terrorist suspect in U.S. custody questioned by the Indonesian Police was Omar al-Faruq, believed to be a top aide of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Southeast Asia.

During the interrogation, al-Faruq disclosed a link between Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) as well as a plan to launch a series of bombing attacks and to assassinate President Megawati when she was vice president.

However, al-Faruq's interrogation by the Indonesian police was reportedly conducted under strict conditions set by the U.S. government including "yes and no" questions only.

The Indonesian Police had reportedly sent officers to the U.S. following Hambali's arrest.

In addition to interrogation access, much of the local population and media have also called on the government to bring Hambali back to Indonesia and try him in his homeland.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri and U.S. President George W. Bush, apparently spoke on the phone about the Hambali issue and there have been varying reports about what was discussed.

Hambali, born as Encep Nurjaman in Sukamanah village, Cianjur, West Java, 39 years ago, was arrested in Thailand on Aug. 11.

He was reportedly carrying a phony Spanish passport under the name of Daniel when he was arrested, making it difficult to determine whether or not he still holds his Indonesian citizenship.

With a possibly complicated status, the Indonesian government has been seemingly reluctant to provide protection for Hambali's rights while under U.S. custody.