Terrorist group? What terrorist group?
Abu Bakar Bashir says that the Indonesian Islamic terror group Jemaah Islamiyah doesn’t even exist. From CNN, .
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) — The alleged spiritual leader of terror group Jemaah Islamiyah is to be questioned by Indonesian police in a bid to link him to the October 12 Bali bombings, his lawyers say.
Testimonies by suspected terrorists, including those detained by the U.S., will be used to investigate Abu Bakar Ba’asyir’s possible involvement in terrorist activities.
The elderly cleric is scheduled to be released from prison later this month, a move which is prompting fears of an escalation of terrorist activity in Indonesia.
The U.S. and other nations say Ba’asyir is the head of al Qaeda’s arm in Southeast Asia, responsible for two attacks on Indonesian soil, including the Bali attack which killed more than 200 people.
Ba’asyir is currently serving a one-and-a-half year jail term for immigration violations and document forgery.
But the 65-year-old cleric has been cleared of terrorism charges by Indonesian courts and denies even the existence of Jemaah islamiyah.
Speaking recently from prison, Ba’asyir told CNN’s Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa that her book which documents his ties to terrorism is “full of lies.”
He says he is in prison because of U.S. pressure on Indonesia.
“The U.S. government, Bush, is targeting me because they have elections and they haven’t yet found Osama bin Laden. I’m just a scapegoat,” Ba’asyir told CNN.
In Ba’asyir’s view, Jemaah Islamiyah and al Qaeda are inventions of the United States designed to tear down Islam, and that he is nothing more than an Islamic preacher.
“The fact the planned questioning came after the United States had handed over 125 transcripts of its investigation into suspected terrorist Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, proved that the world’s only superpower had compelled Indonesia to press charges against Ba’asyir,” lawyer Mohammad Assegaff said.
Ba’asyir’s innocence has also been championed by one of the convicted Bali bombers.
“Ba’asyir had nothing to do with the Bali bombing,” Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, told reporters from his jail cell in Bali recently.
“If he was linked to it in the past, it was just because (those who implicated him) were tortured by interrogators,” Amrozi said.
“This man is not just an innocent old preacher,” says Sydney Jones of the International Crisis Group.
“The man knows perfectly well JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) exists. If he says it doesn’t exist, he’s lying through his teeth.”
What worries analysts is that if Ba’asyir is released from prison, he will gain credibility and fuel public skepticism about Jemaah Islamiyah’s existence.
And that could turn out to be another factor making Indonesia more vulnerable in a global war on terror.