Wed, 25 Sep 2002

U.S. yet to link RI groups to int'l terrorist cells: Boyce

Agencies, Jakarta

Despite mounting pressure for Washington to cease spreading what many leaders here call "black propaganda" against Indonesia, the U.S. ambassador insisted on Tuesday that terrorist cells are operating in the world's largest Muslim country and urged it to counter them.

"We are seeing indications that they are here. We just can't avoid this," Ralph Boyce told a group of Muslim leaders who bombarded him with questions about the evidence behind the U.S.'s allegations of an international terrorist network operating in Indonesia.

But he said Washington had not yet linked any hard-line groups here, which have been campaigning for an Islamic state, to global terrorist organizations.

"There is a misperception that the U.S. has labeled them as international terrorist organizations," Boyce said, referring to groups such as Laskar Jihad, the Islam Defenders' Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI).

Singapore has accused elderly MMI leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir of having links to a regional terrorist network.

In Hanoi on Tuesday, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific, Matthew Daley, said Washington was considering designating Ba'asyir's group as "what we technically call a foreign terrorist organization".

Tuesday's dialog with Boyce was attended by around 20 Muslim leaders including Muhammadiyah Deputy chairman Din Syamsuddin, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) leaders Ahmad Bagja and Cecep Syarifuddin, and Umar Shihab from the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI).

Also present were Hussein Umar of the Indonesian Islamic Council (DII), Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) secretary-general Marwah Daud Ibrahim and representatives from the United Islam (Persis) and Al-Irsyad organizations, and the Indonesian Committee for World Muslim Solidarity (Kisdi).

Din, who presided over the meeting, said it was held at the request of the U.S. envoy.

The dialog, which took place at Muhammadiyah headquarters, was the third since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks blamed on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda group.

"We have been saying since Sept. 11 that al-Qaeda is in dozens and dozens of countries ... and (it) has been active in Indonesia," Boyce asserted.

"Just because you cannot see them (international terrorist cells), it does not mean that they are not there," he argued.

He appealed to Indonesian leaders to refrain from "attacking the (U.S.) messenger" and instead focus on the dangers al-Qaeda posed.

The security authorities here have arrested several suspects, all believed to be foreign citizens, accused of being connected with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

"It's an Indonesian responsibility that will have an Indonesian solution," said Boyce, who earlier urged the government here to "do even more" to confront terrorism.

"It's not a solution that will be imposed on you by the United States. For it to have any success, it will have to come from Indonesia."

His comments followed public criticism of the U.S. by prominent religious and youth leaders who asked it to refrain from spreading what they described as "disinformation" against Indonesia, and warned that such disinformation would only further encourage widespread resentment against Washington.

They also demanded that the U.S. provide clear, hard proof of its recent claims that terrorist cells were operating in Indonesia.

Boyce said that a recent Time magazine report based on allegedly leaked CIA documents was not an official report from his government.

The magazine said in its Sept. 23 issue that an alleged al- Qaeda senior operative, Omar al-Faruq -- who was arrested in June in Bogor, West Java -- admitted he had plotted to kill President Megawati Soekarnoputri in May 1999 when she was running for the presidency.

In a response to the report, Din accused Washington, in cooperation with "certain Indonesian elements", of spreading a "self-fulfilling prophesy" to pit Muslims against nationalists here.

"We never knew when and how al-Faruq was arrested in Indonesia and deported to the U.S., but we were suddenly surprised by a report from far away that he planned to kill Megawati," he told The Jakarta Post.

"It shows an evil scenario that will have the impact of damaging the image of Islam," Din added.