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Indonesia Arrests the Owner of Minivan Used in Bali Bombing

The suspect confessed to role in the deadly attack, police say. Evidence of Al Qaeda link grows.

November 08, 2002|Richard C. Paddock and Sari Sudarsono | Times Staff Writers

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The owner of a minivan used in the deadly car bombing of Bali nightclubs last month has confessed that he took part in the attack, police said Thursday, as evidence mounted that the blast was linked to Al Qaeda.

In a major breakthrough in the investigation of the bombings, which killed at least 191 people, Indonesian police arrested the suspect Tuesday after tracing the ownership of the destroyed van through its chassis number. He has been identified only as Amrozi.

"Amrozi was one of the main perpetrators of the Bali bombing," national Police Chief Dai Bachtiar said Thursday. "He has disclosed many things and admitted his acts in Bali .... We are pursuing his companions."

Bachtiar said Amrozi was part of a group of people who planned and carried out the attack. Amrozi admitted that he was on the island of Bali at the time of the bombing, police said.

One of the prime suspects in the attack has been Jemaah Islamiah, a regional terrorist group linked to the Al Qaeda network and allegedly headed by radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.

Bashir has been taken into custody but is refusing to answer authorities' questions about a string of bombings in Indonesia. He denies any part in the Bali bombings or other terrorist acts.

CNN reported Thursday that Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the Bali attack through an Arabic Web site. The group said it had targeted "nightclubs and whorehouses" in Indonesia and boasted of its aim to hit inside Arab and Islamic countries that are part of what it called a "Jewish-Crusader alliance." The Bali attack hit the country with the most Muslim residents, but many of the dead were young Australian tourists.

Al Qaeda has previously used the Web site to claim responsibility for other attacks, including a synagogue bombing in Tunisia and two attacks on ships in Yemen.

Amrozi, 35, was arrested in East Java province and taken to Bali for questioning. He had been living in the town of Tenggulun, where he grew up.

Indonesian television reported that Bashir spoke at least twice at the Pesantran Al Islam, an Islamic school in Tenggulun. A school official said Amrozi attended Bashir's lectures, but it was unclear whether the two knew each other.

From the police hospital where he is confined, Bashir told SCTV television that he did not know Amrozi, but he acknowledged that he had spoken twice at the school.

Amrozi reportedly spent considerable time in Malaysia during the 1990s, but there was no indication whether he knew Bashir there. The cleric, facing arrest in Indonesia for his anti-government activities, lived in self-imposed exile in Malaysia for more than a decade.

Bachtiar said police were investigating Amrozi's international travels and his possible links to Bashir.

"We are still collecting all this information," Bachtiar said. "The information that has been given is that he had been to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. And we still have to prove his confession."

Police are also investigating a chemical supply shop in the East Java city of Surabaya after discovering receipts in Amrozi's garage for the purchase of materials there.

Asked by reporters whether Amrozi parked the explosives-laden van outside the Sari Club, the police chief said, "The group has several people with a division of labor, certainly including Amrozi, who admitted going there and dividing up tasks."

He added, "We have gathered lots of information from him, but we still have to cross-check it with other evidence."

*

Paddock reported from Sydney, Australia, and Sudarsono from Jakarta.

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