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Indonesian police re-arrest militant cleric

Police in Indonesia re-arrested a militant cleric Friday who allegedly heads the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group just as he was to be freed, and took him for questioning about deadly bombings.
Abu Bakar Bashir, the suspected spiritual leader of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror group, pauses during a meeting with his lawyers at Salemba prison in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday.Abdullah Azam / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police re-arrested a militant cleric Friday who allegedly heads the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror group, whisking him away to question him about a series of deadly bombings.

Indonesian authorities said earlier this week that Abu Bakar Bashir would be freed Friday after serving an 18-month term for minor immigration offenses. But around 6:30 a.m. local time, police grabbed him from his cell and brought him to police headquarters.

Dozens of his supporters yelled and tossed bottles as he was led away. Police responded by spraying them with water cannons and tear gas.

Prosecutors are expected to indict the 66-year-old Bashir on charges of approving a string of bombings dating back to 2000 that included the Oct. 12, 2002, Bali attack which killed 202 people.

Bashir’s wife, Aisyah Baradja, said relatives and friends in Solo had been preparing for his homecoming. She said she was cooking Nasi Kebuli, a special lamb and rice dish, to celebrate his return.

Bashir’s lawyers have said re-arresting their client is part of an American-led conspiracy to keep him behind bars despite the lack of fresh evidence.

A number of Indonesian Muslim leaders, including the head of the country’s top Islamic council and the Islamic-based Party of Justice and Prosperity, have also pleaded for his release.

Bashir’s fate is a sensitive political issue in Indonesia, where authorities have sought to balance the need to remain aggressive in the U.S.-led war on terror while not appearing to cave into pressure from the United States and Australia.

Officials recently took their case to the media, arguing in interviews Thursday that they have testimony from scores of witnesses from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore who can prove Bashir is the Jemaah Islamiyah leader.

Mbai also said authorities have recently uncovered reams of new documents implicating Bashir, including a letter signed by Islamic extremists in the Philippines that allegedly identifies him as the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah.

That letter was written by two alleged militants who are currently detained in Indonesia — Mustafa, said to be a top Jemaah Islamiyah operative who had trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, and his Malaysian associate, Nasir Abbas.

Bashir’s lawyers have argued that authorities are just repackaging old evidence and counting on the country’s tough new anti-terror law to obtain a conviction.

Unlike the criminal code under which Bashir was prosecuted earlier, the new law sets a lower burden of proof in cases involving terrorism. It also allows police to detain suspects without charges for up to six month.

“It’s becoming clearer that the police are merely acting on behalf of Washington,” said Bashir’s lawyer, Munawarman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. “Our client has already been proven innocent by the courts. Police can’t ask anything new because they have no fresh evidence.”