The New York Times, Tuesday, April 20, 2004
U.S. Pressure to Hold Militant Sets Off Outcry in Indonesia
By RAYMOND BONNER
JAKARTA, Indonesia, April 19 - An effort by the Bush administration to ensure that
Abu Bakar Bashir, the leader of the militant Islamic organization Jemaah Islamiyah,
remains in jail and is fully prosecuted on terrorism charges has set off a diplomatic
and political tempest here.
In the middle of an intense political campaign, Islamists and nationalists are
denouncing what they see as undue interference in Indonesia's internal affairs, and
presidential candidates are expected to join in condemning the American pressure.
A lawyer for Mr. Bashir said in a brief telephone interview on Monday that he thought
his client would not be released because of the pressure from the United States.
Indonesian officials also indicated that they would continue to detain Mr. Bashir and
would probably charge him again. They said their thinking was based on new evidence
linking him to the bombing of nightclubs in Bali in October 2002, not because of
pressure from the United States and Australia, which has made the same case
against Mr. Bashir, the officials said.
"We are not troubled by America's, and Australia's, views on Abu Bakar Bashir," Mary
Natalegawa, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview on
Monday. "We would like to ask them to be more circumspect, more economical in
expressing their views."
Based on interrogations of several suspected members of Al Qaeda now in United
States custody, American officials say Mr. Bashir was a critical participant in several
terrorist attacks, including the ones in Bali, which killed more than 200 people.
Mr. Bashir - who has steadfastly denied any terrorist activities, but not a loathing for
the United States and Jews - was convicted of only relatively minor offenses last
September, and a Supreme Court ruling last month made him eligible for release.
Hoping to block that, the American ambassador, Ralph L. Boyce, has appealed to
President Megawati Sukarnoputri, police officials and the heads of several Islamic
Australia has made similar entreaties. "We've been talking to the Indonesians," said
the Australian ambassador here, David Ritchie. "It disquiets us that he may be out of
jail," he added.
The challenge for the United States and Australia has been has been to get the
Indonesians to look for "other options," as Mr. Ritchie put it, while keeping a low
Mr. Boyce's problems arose out of his trying to enlist prominent Indonesian Muslim
leaders to the cause. Last month, he called on Syafii Maarif, the leader of
Muhammadiyah, one of the country's two largest Muslim organizations. Mr. Maarif
was one of the Muslim leaders who met with President Bush in Bali last October, and
Mr. Boyce presented him with a photograph with Mr. Bush. However, Mr. Maarif wrote
in a column last week in Republica, the most pro-Islamic of Indonesia's mainstream
newspapers, that the real purpose of the visit was Mr. Bashir.
Mr. Boyce asked Mr. Maarif to intercede with the Supreme Court and the police to
keep Mr. Bashir in jail, Mr. Maarif wrote. The column touched off a public outcry.
In a meeting with Indonesian journalists on Monday, Mr. Boyce acknowledged that he
had met with Mr. Maarif but declined to say what the two men had discussed,
according to individuals who were present.
The Indonesian government has complained that it has been unable to present a
strong case against Mr. Bashir because the United States has denied Indonesian
officials access to a senior Qaeda leader, Riudan Isamuddin, better known as
Hambali, who has been in American custody at an undisclosed location since he was
seized by the C.I.A. in Bangkok last August. But similar information has come from
other detainees, an Indonesian official said.
Copyright © 2004 The New York Times Company.