Sat, 23 Aug 2003

U.S. remains aloof over RI demand for Hambali custody

Fitri Wulandari and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The United States government has refused to discuss the possibility of transferring terrorist suspect Hambali to Indonesia at present, citing international complications over the issue.

The U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce said on Friday Washington understands the interest of Indonesia in obtaining Hambali, but many other countries in the region have made similar requests.

"I have already said it is not a good time to speculate on what is eventually going to happen. I think there is a long way to go, but the point is we are working together and understand each other," Boyce said, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding on transportation security.

The envoy said that Indonesia understands the situation, likewise the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Australia.

"All are working together. So I ask you, please, not to create an issue where there isn't one," he added.

The Indonesian-born terrorist suspect is wanted in many countries for his alleged involvement in a series of terrorist attacks in the region over the past few years.

Hambali, born as Encep Nurjaman in Sukamanah village, Cianjur, West Java, 39 years ago, was arrested in Thailand on Aug. 11 and is currently under U.S. custody at a secret location.

He was carrying a 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.

The Indonesian police have implicated Hambali in 39 bombings in eight cities across the country between August 2000 and the Oct. 12, 2002 Bali blasts. He is also linked to the JW Marriott Hotel bombing early this month.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri had personally called the U.S. President, George W. Bush, regarding the possibility for Indonesia to interrogate Hambali and bring him back to Jakarta for trial.

Earlier, the Indonesian police supplied U.S. investigators with documents and other legal evidence related to Hambali's activities.

Boyce said Indonesia's access to Hambali was a very sensitive issue and not all the details would be made available to the public.

In Australia, visiting Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said Washington had promised to give Indonesia access to Hambali.

"It is understood that during a telephone conversation between President Megawati and President Bush last week, it was indicated that the United States will facilitate our interest (in Hambali)," Hassan told reporters as quoted by Reuters.

"He (Hambali) is thought to be the mastermind behind the Bali bombing and other attacks and he is also the missing link in our investigations and prosecution of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir," he said.

Indonesian prosecutors have charged Ba'asyir with treason for trying to overthrow the Indonesian government, as the alleged leader of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), the Southeast Asian network accused of carrying out the Bali blasts.

Indonesian National Police Chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar has denied recent reports that JI operates a 300-member attack force in the country.

"There is no such thing as strike forces or fighters, they are just small groups that work separately in carrying out terror attacks," Da'i said on Friday.

National Police Detective chief Comr. Gen. Erwin Mappaseng said that JI has an attack force and most of the fighters were trained in Afghanistan and Moro island, the Philippines.