Indonesian police arrested radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for links with terrorists who planned to bomb foreign embassies and hotels, four years after a court overturned his conviction for involvement in a 2002 attack on a Bali nightclub.
Bashir, 71, contributed funds to a training camp in Aceh province and regularly received reports from militant operatives, national police spokesman Edward Aritonang told reporters today in Jakarta. Police are also searching for a French national with a Moroccan wife who may be involved in the larger plot, he said.
The cleric’s arrest follows a February raid on a training camp in Aceh that unveiled more than 100 terrorism suspects. Of that group, 66 have been arrested and will be prosecuted in Jakarta soon, Aritonang said. Authorities will “reconstruct the event in Aceh to see how deep Bashir’s involvement is and also to find out the next possible terror act,” he said.
Indonesia has stepped up raids against terror suspects since bombings 13 months ago at Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels killed nine people, including the two attackers. They were the first terrorist attacks by Islamist militants in almost four years in the secular Southeast Asian republic, which has the world’s biggest population of Muslims.
“Bashir’s arrest is a demonstration that Indonesia has made significant gains in the fight against terrorism,” said Rohan Gunaratna, head of the Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research. “Unless the ideologues are arrested, unless the ideology is criminalized, terrorism will persist.”
Police gave no details of which embassies or hotels were set to be targeted. The network established a bomb laboratory in West Java and tested explosions twice in nearby hills, Aritonang said. Bomb-making materials were found on other suspects who were arrested, he said.
As part of the sweep, police confiscated a Mitsubishi Gallant that was to be used as a car bomb and had been given to terrorist suspects by a French man and his Moroccan wife, Aritonang said. Authorities have contacted Interpol to find more information on the couple, whose identities weren’t released, he said.
“This is God’s grace,” Bashir said earlier as he was escorted into an office in the police compound in Jakarta, the capital. “It will cut my sin.” Bashir said the police move was the result “of the U.S.’s conspiracy.”
The Aceh camps were financed in part by Jama’ah Ansharut Tauhid, known as JAT, which Bashir established in 2008. The group advocates the full application of Islamic law in Indonesia, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
“It’s good police work, no question, but it’s also been very stupid missteps and miscalculations on the part of the groups involved,” Sidney Jones, senior adviser to the research organization’s Asia Program, said by telephone.
Bashir has served two jail terms since 2003, neither on terrorism charges as prosecutors failed to prove beyond doubt his role in attacks using the country’s anti-terror laws. He has been affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda linked group blamed for the Bali attack in which 202 people were killed, including 88 Australians.
Last September, police killed militant leader Noordin Mohammad Top, who was suspected of involvement in every major anti-Western attack in Indonesia since 2002. In March, they killed terrorist leader and suspected Bali bomber Dulmatin and two others.
Bashir is connected to terrorist elements throughout the country, Ito Sumardi, head of the national police crime investigation unit, told reporters today. “We collected data, gathered facts for quite some time,” he said. “We’ve seen an escalation and a rise in disturbances.”
Indonesia allowed Aceh to impose Islamic Shariah law in 2001 in a bid to win over the population during the central government’s war with separatists there. More than 98 percent of Acehnese are Muslims who mostly adhere to a stricter interpretation of Islam than others in the country.
The Jakarta Composite Index has gained 22 percent this year, the best performance among Asia’s 10 largest markets. The benchmark increased 0.7 percent today, while the MSCI Asia-Pacific Index was little changed.
Terrorist attacks are no longer “a deal breaker” for companies looking to invest in Indonesia, said James Van Zorge, principal of Jakarta-based business consultancy Van Zorge, Heffernan and Associates. Southeast Asia’s largest economy may expand 6.3 percent next year, Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo said today.
“The threat of terrorism doesn’t have as big an impact as back in 2001 or 2002,” Van Zorge said. “In those years, whenever there was a terrorist attack, the word was ‘one more attack and we’re out of here.’ You don’t hear that anymore.”