A day after the adoption of a tough new anti-terrorism decree, Indonesian police today arrested the alleged leader of a militant group suspected in last week’s Bali nightclub bombing.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 64, who has been in hospital since Friday with breathing problems is now under police guard at the main hospital in his hometown of Solo, said National Police spokesman Gen. Saleh Saaf.
Bashir’s group, Jemaah Islamiyah, is suspected of involvement in the deadly Bali nightclub bombing, but he has not been named a suspect in those attacks, which left at least 183 people dead, most of them foreign tourists.
Bashir was instead arrested in connection with a spate of church bombings two years ago in which 19 people died. He has denied involvement in those attacks as well as the October 12 Bali nightclub bombing.
The carnage in Bali triggered international demands that Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim nation – crack down on extremists and militants allegedly linked to the al -Qaida terror network.
Today defence minister Matori Abdul Djalil said authorities were now “certain” of al-Qaida’s presence in Indonesia.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri, slow to act against religious militancy in the past because of Islamic sensitivities, on Friday rammed through emergency measures by decree after months of legislative delay.
The decree was made retroactive to cover those responsible for the Bali bombing.
“After what happened in Bali, Indonesia urgently needs a law to fight terrorism,” Justice Minister Yusril Mahendra said.
The decree allows for suspects to be detained initially for three days. With a judge’s approval, that can be extended by another six months without charges filed.
Those convicted of carrying out or threatening to carry out acts of terror will face prison sentences ranging from four years to life or the death penalty.
The measures will be enforced by the police. Many human rights activists are leery of wider powers for the Indonesian military, which has a long record of brutal abuses. The abuses have only been partially reined in by the fledgling democracy since dictator Suharto was toppled in 1998.
Police Brig. Gen. Edward Aritonang said in Bali that investigators had so far questioned 67 people in connection with the nightclub blast.
“There is some progress in the investigation but so far we have no suspects,” Aritonang said.
Bashir is likely to be released from Muhammadiyah Hospital in two days, doctors said. Police officials told reporters that questioning would be postponed until then.
“His condition is gradually improving, but he still has to remain in hospital to rest and for further medical examinations,” said Dr. Suradi, a lung specialist.
Several dozen riot policemen were posted at the hospital to prevent Bashir’s students from mounting street protests.
Malaysia and Singapore had urged Indonesia for months to arrest Bashir after uncovering an alleged plot by Jemaah Islamiyah to blow up the US Embassy and other Western targets in Singapore. The two countries have jailed nearly 100 suspected Jemaah Islamiyah members.
Indonesia had balked, saying there was not enough evidence to prove Bashir had committed a crime.
Under enormous international pressure, officials flipped their position on Friday after a team of Indonesian investigators returned from questioning Omar al-Faruq, an alleged al-Qaida operative in south-east Asia who was arrested in Indonesia and turned over to the United States in June.
Al-Faruq fingered Bashir as ordering the church bombings, and implicated him in the activities of Jemaah Islamiyah.
Bashir said he does not even know al-Faruq.