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Indonesian Police Seek Charges Against Cleric

Abu Bakar Bashir tried to overthrow president and instigated blasts, prosecutors are told.

January 22, 2003|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Police said Tuesday that they were recommending that radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir be charged with attempting to overthrow the Indonesian government and instigating a series of church bombings.

If prosecutors follow the police recommendation, Bashir could face life in prison for the bombing charges, which stem from attacks on churches and priests allegedly carried out by his militant Muslim followers on Christmas Eve 2000.

Based on the confessions of captured militants, authorities contend that Bashir is the head of Jemaah Islamiah, a terrorist group allied with the Al Qaeda network. Police say Jemaah Islamiah has carried out dozens of bombings in Southeast Asia, including blasts Oct. 12 in Bali that killed nearly 200 people.

Bashir, 64, who advocates the formation of an Islamic state in Southeast Asia, was jailed in Indonesia for sedition in the late 1970s before fleeing to Malaysia.

Arrested after the Bali bombing, he denies any part in terrorist activities and has refused to cooperate with investigators. He acknowledges having met several of the suspects in recent bombing cases but denies that Jemaah Islamiah exists as an organization.

Police spokesman Edward Aritonang said investigators have built a strong case against Bashir. "If we did not have solid evidence, we wouldn't have handed the case over to the court," Aritonang said.

Prosecutors have 14 days to file charges against the cleric or return the file to police for further investigation.

The charge of attempting to topple the Indonesian government carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Among those who gave statements to police implicating Bashir were Omar Faruq, an Iraqi who confessed to being an Al Qaeda operative, and high-level Jemaah Islamiah leader Faiz Abu Bakar Bafana, a Malaysian. Both have said Bashir was involved in plots to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri and bomb churches.

Aritonang said Bashir's role in the bombings was to inspire others to carry them out. The bombers placed explosive devices at dozens of churches and priests' homes across Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000. Most of the bombs exploded within a few minutes of each other, killing 19 and injuring 100.

Police also recommended that Bashir be charged with giving false information to authorities and with entering Indonesia illegally when he returned in 1999 from his self-imposed exile in Malaysia.

Police contend that Bashir gave up his Indonesian citizenship when he lived in Malaysia and did not report to Indonesian authorities as required.

"He is not an Indonesian citizen, but he obtained an Indonesian ID," police spokesman Didi Rochyadi said.

If a court ultimately agrees that Bashir lost his citizenship, that could pave the way for his deportation to Malaysia, where he is also wanted on terrorist charges.

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