- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia Indonesian police whisked a radical Muslim cleric from a hospital yesterday to question him about the deadly Bali bombing and other attacks, a day after President Bush urged stiff action against the country's terror suspects.

Police plan to question Abu Bakar Bashir about a shadowy group reputedly linked to al Qaeda that authorities believe was involved in the Oct. 12 nightclub bombings that killed nearly 200 people. Police said they would interrogate Mr. Bashir today or tomorrow.

Mr. Bashir's arrest was the most decisive action yet by the Indonesian government against suspected Islamic militants.

On Sunday, at a meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the Mexican resort of Cabo San Lucas, scene of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Mr. Bush urged her government to act forcefully against terror suspects.

Mr. Bashir, dressed in white and confined to a wheelchair, was escorted out of a hospital in the town of Solo, where he was held under police guard for 10 days. Outside, hundreds of students from Mr. Bashir's religious school clashed with police, throwing stones and benches at them. Several police officers and students were slightly injured.

Mr. Bashir is not personally a suspect in the Bali attack, but the Jemaah Islamiyah group is thought to have been involved. Mr. Bashir is considered the spiritual leader of the group, which is seeking a Muslim superstate in Southeast Asia and is allied with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.

Though no one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Bali, al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah are widely suspected.

While in the hospital for treatment of a respiratory ailment, the cleric was placed under arrest on Oct. 18. He is charged with ordering a string of church bombings in 2000 that killed 19 persons and plotting the assassination of Mrs. Megawati.

Mr. Bashir, 64, who denies any links to terrorists, says he is being made a scapegoat and has blamed his arrest on U.S. diplomatic pressure. Mr. Bashir has blamed the Bali attacks on the CIA and denies that Jemaah Islamiyah and al Qaeda exist.

But Malaysian police say Mr. Bashir maintains close links with Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, a commander for both Jemaah Islamiyah and al Qaeda. Hambali, an Indonesian, is believed to be hiding in a third country, possibly the Philippines.

After Mr. Bashir was taken away, Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sought to defuse tensions with Mr. Bashir's supporters in Solo.

"A court will determine whether he is guilty or not," Mr. Yudhoyono said. "We do not want to punish the innocent while the real terrorists remain free looking for new opportunities."

Mr. Bashir's arrest followed questioning of Omar Faruq, an al Qaeda operative taken into custody by Indonesia and turned over to the United States. Mr. Faruq claims to have known Mr. Bashir well and reputedly implicated him in the church bombings and the assassination plot.

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