Wed, 24 Sep 2003

U.S. rejection on Hambali access irks Indonesia

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Legislators say the United States' rejection of Indonesia's demand for direct access to alleged Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) leader Hambali for questioning would only hamper antiterrorism campaigns in the world's largest Muslim country.

They urge the government to press ahead with lobbying the U.S. in to order to gain access to Hambali, who is linked to terrorist bombings across Indonesia.

JI is believed to have links with Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist group, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks in Washington and New York.

"There is no reason for the U.S. to reject our demand. Allowing Indonesia to question Hambali will help uncover the terrorist network," Hamdan Zoelva, deputy chairman of House Commission II for security and law, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Hamdan, a legislator of the Crescent Star Party (PBB) faction, said the rejection had sparked doubts among Indonesians that the man in U.S. custody was not Hambali.

Chairman of House Commission I for defense and foreign affairs Ibrahim Ambong, of the Golkar faction, said Washington's stance would not benefit worldwide efforts to combat terrorism. "Of course, this does not help us in uncovering the terrorist network in Indonesia," he added.

Hamdan asserted that the government should continue their efforts to convince U.S. officials about the significance of the demand.

"The government should present better arguments to gain access," he said.

While the Sydney Morning Herald daily also reported that America had shunned Indonesia's request for direct access to Hambali, National Police Chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said he had not been notified about the rejection.

He said he had talked with the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and "they promised us direct access to Hambali, but the location and time remains undecided".

Political analyst Hermawan Sulistyo of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), who assisted the police in investigating the Oct. 12, 2002 Bali bombings, said Washington's reluctance simply indicated their "precaution over the issue, because it is very sensitive", adding that terrorism was often linked to a particular religion.

He said it would be better for the government not to pursue direct access to Hambali, and instead demand copies of the U.S.' case file on him to present as evidence at his trial in Jakarta.

He played down the chances of obtaining new data and information from Hambali on JI's terrorist activities, should Indonesian authorities be allowed to question him.

It would be enough for Indonesian police to collect more information from other terrorist suspects being detained here, said Hermawan.

Hambali was captured in Thailand and handed over to U.S. custody. He is being detained at an undisclosed location.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is currently in the U.S. to discuss the global antiterrorism campaign with senior officials there.

Last week, he met separately with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) head Robert Mueller, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary of State Colin Powell to press for direct access to Hambali.