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Cleric Bashir held on terror group charges
August 10, 2010
5:45 am
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rath
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August 10, 2010

INDONESIA'S notorious Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was the major organiser behind a new terrorist group that was planning fresh attacks, Indonesian police said yesterday.

The startling allegations follow Bashir's arrest yesterday, the third time counter-terrorism authorities have detained the firebrand preacher since the Bali bombings of 2002 that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

As he was brought into police headquarters in Jakarta, Bashir proclaimed his innocence.

''This arrest is a blessing … I will be rewarded by Allah.''

The authorities have previously been unable to make any serious charges stick, despite his incendiary rhetoric that earned him infamy in Australia and elsewhere. But this time police have accused Bashir of being the spiritual and organisational head of a terrorist group uncovered in Aceh province in February.

The group dubbed itself al-Qaeda in Aceh and allegedly planned multiple attacks, including a Mumbai-style series of shootings on Indonesia's Independence Day targeting the President, foreign dignitaries and luxury hotels.

''[Bashir] was actively involved with preparing plans of terror, including the military training ground in Aceh,'' said police spokesman Inspector-General Edward Aritonang.

He said Bashir appointed Dulmatin - himself a notorious terrorist - as field commander of the Aceh-based group, and Mustafa, aka Abu Tolud, as training commander. Dulmatin was a senior figure behind the Bali bombings of 2002 but escaped to the Philippines.

He was killed in a shootout in Java this year after his alleged role in the Aceh-based terrorist cell was discovered.

Mustafa, who is a cleric, remains at large. Bashir also allegedly blessed the cell and his group, Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, provided most of its funding, thought to be more than $US100,000 ($A108,800).

Such a deep involvement in the creation of a terrorist group defies most terrorist analysts' views on Bashir, typically regarded as a noisy extremist with a waning influence in jihadi circles.

The son of Yemeni immigrants who was exiled from Indonesia during the Suharto dictatorship, Bashir is frail and 71 years old.

His school in Ngruki, Central Java, has produced a dozen known terrorists, but he has managed largely to avoid the efforts of authorities to put him out of action, serving only two shortened jail terms.

Indonesian terrorism analyst Noor Huda Ismail said the stakes were high for Indonesian authorities.

Mr Noor, who went to school at Ngruki, said: ''The question is, can they prove it?

''The opinion of Bashir is low among jihadis in Indonesia. If they fail to [prosecute him], he will capitalise on it and increase his popularity.

More than 100 people have been killed or arrested in relation to the Aceh-based cell, including five over the weekend with direct links to Bashir.

Inspector-General Aritonang said the latest plots included an attempt to kill President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and attacks on foreign embassies and international hotels.

The Australian embassy was among a number of foreign missions in Jakarta considered as a target by a terrorist cell allegedly led by Abu Bakar Bashir, the head of Indonesia's leading counter-terrorism agency said today.

Asked if the Australian diplomatic mission was among the "two or more" unnamed foreign embassies identifed as potential targets by police yesterday, Anysaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia's counter-terrorism agency, said "yes".

He identified the US embassy as another target, identifying it as a "favourite" for violent extremists.

Advertisement: Story continues belowThe information that the Australian mission was on the cell's hit list was "not only based on testimonies but other evidence as well", Mr Ansyaad added.

The Australian embassy was hit by a car bomb in 2004, killing 11 people, including the suicide bomber, and injuring scores of others.

However, a senior police source said that there had been no detailed planning to carry out a second attack on the Australian mission, with efforts centred on a plot to hit Indonesian police and an earlier plan to assassinate Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The source said bombing the Australian embassy was "conceptual at this time".

"It was what they would like to do, as opposed to anything concrete."

Police arrested the notorious Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir yesterday, alleging he oversaw and arranged funding for an Aceh-based terrorist group.

It follows more than 100 arrests linked to the cell, dubbed Al-Qaeda in Aceh, and the uncovering over the weekend of stockpiles of bomb-making equipment and chemicals in West Java.

Among those arrested was a chemical engineer Kurnia Widodo, who had allegedly already detonated some test explosives.

Bashir has proclaimed his innocence. He has been arrested twice previously, but only served short prison terms and had charges that he was involved in the 2002 Bali bombings quashed on appeal.

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