Authorities on three continents are becoming convinced that Al
Qaeda is tied to the massive bomb blast last Saturday that shook the
peace of Indonesian resort island Bali.
The level of certainty ranges from "probably," being uttered by
foreign officials like Australian Prime Minster John Howard, to the
first tentative "maybes" from Indonesian officials like National
Police spokesman Saleh Saaf.
Evidence pointing in that direction ranges from the date of the
Bali attack - the second anniversary of the attack on the USS Cole -
to information gathered by US and other intelligence agencies that a
regional Al Qaeda linked terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), was
seeking to hit targets in Indonesia.
Now, following the worst global terrorist attack since Sept. 11,
Indonesia - which has the world's largest Muslim population -
appears to be taking the dangers of its radical groups to heart. In
a significant step Thursday, Indonesian police declared the
spiritual leader of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir, a prime suspect in deadly
church bombings across Indonesia in 2000. Although police said they
will call Mr. Bashir in for questioning tomorrow, they noted that he
was not yet a suspect in the Bali attack.
Still Thursday's announcement may signal that a bigger crackdown
is on the way, analysts say.
The shift comes as the region was reminded Thursday that the
storm is not past when two bombs destroyed a shopping complex in the
Philippines city of Zamboanga, killing five Filipinos and wounding
about 30. Philippines National Police officials say they believe the
bombs were set by the Abu Sayyaf, a radical group with historic
links to Al Qaeda.
Today, Indonesia's parliament is expected to issue an
antiterrorism decree, which includes giving President Megawati
Sukarnoputri emergency powers to hold terrorist suspects without
Mr. Saaf says police are holding four Indonesian men in
connection with the Bali attack, which left at least 180 dead. The
detainees, according to Saaf, include an Indonesian who was a
security guard at the Sari Club, the nightclub destroyed in the
blast, and his brother.
While these men are suspected of being foot soldiers in the
attack, foreign governments have focused on Bashir. US and regional
intelligence officials have warned Indonesia for the past year that
Bashir, who has lived openly in Indonesia, is a terrorist leader and
that Indonesia could be the site of an attack.
Until now, Indonesia has resisted international pressure to
arrest him, saying there is insufficient evidence. Privately,
government officials say, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has feared
a militant Muslim backlash if he is arrested. …