Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Bali blasts burden Indonesia with new issues

TOUGH NUT Indonesia is under pressure to ban militant Islamic groupings like Jemaah Islamiyah, but officials fear it may fuel a political backlash among moderate Muslims

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , JAKARTA

The recent Bali bombings have brought to the fore in Indonesia an issue similar to one raised in the UK after the London bombings: whether to ban militant Islamic organizations.

The group in question here is Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the US, Australia and the UN.

Ban it, says Australia, which probably has a bigger stake in Indonesia's counterterrorism effort than any other foreign country. More than 80 Australians were killed in the first Bali bombings in 2002 and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was the target of a suicide bomber last year. Jemaah Islamiyah was behind the attacks, Australian and US officials have said.

Australia is also pushing Indonesia to adopt new laws that would allow the police to detain and question terrorism suspects longer without bringing charges. Singapore and Malaysia have internal-security laws, which allow detentions of up to two years, but similar laws have been resisted in Indonesia because they have the flavor of the Suharto dictatorship. Now the government is seriously considering adopting the tougher laws.

The Bush administration agrees that the group should be banned, but in the last year Washington has adopted a low profile on the issue, aware that Indonesians resent outsiders telling them what to do.

In the investigation of the terrorist attacks in Bali on Oct. 1, which killed 19 diners at three restaurants, most of them Indonesians, the police have not arrested any-one, nor have they positively identified any of the three suicide bombers, according to police officials. Several men have been detained for questioning; one of them, a man identified only as Hasan who was suspected of having lived with the suicide bombers in Bali, was released on Thursday.

No hard evidence has been found that Jemaah Islamiyah was responsible for the Oct. 1 attacks, the police have said, but two members of the organization, Mohamad Noordin Top and Azhari Husin, are prime suspects.

The pressure to ban the group is coming almost completely from outside nations. Many senior government officials say they worry that banning it would create a political backlash among moderate Muslims.

Goenawan Mohamad, one of the country's leading intellectuals, a political liberal and a nominal Muslim, said, "I don't think we should ban it," adding, "It would be counterproductive."

Goenawan said banning the organization would only help it by giving it a certain "aura of illegality," which would make it even more popular.

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