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Arrested cleric is accused of targeting Westerners


Elite anti-terror police escort arrested radical Islamist preacher Abu Bakar Bashir (C) on arrival at police headquarters in Jakarta on August 9, 2010. Bashir is accused of providing support for extremists linked with the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, officials said.


Bay Ismoyo

Top: Indonesia’s U.S.-trained police counter-terrorism unit has arrested Abu Bakar Bashir, the country’s leading radical Islamic cleric, on terrorism charges, and this time officials say they have enough evidence to put him away for good.

Bashir, 71, and his wife were arrested in West Java on August 9 and charged with organizing and funding a secret militant training camp in remote Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra Island. The vehemently anti-Western Islamic preacher had previously served two short prison sentences in connection with the 2002 Bali bombings and the bombing of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003, but later renounced violence.

Indonesia’s National Police say they have “solid evidence” including wire traps, videos, and financial transaction data proving Bashir, leader of a movement trying to bring Islamic law to Indonesia, played a central role in supporting the training camp. Police say the militants were plotting to assassinate Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and launch Mumbai-style attacks on Western hotels and embassies in Jakarta.

While this counter-terrorism unit can celebrate the arrest of another terrorist suspect, Indonesia’s National Police chief is under pressure to apologize for a plot by senior officers to frame two leading anti-corruption officials for bribery last year, including lying about having incriminating evidence.

The police were forced to admit on Aug. 11 that they didn’t actually possess any wiretapped telephone calls between a senior member of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and a middleman to discuss paying a bribe to halt a case. Police failed to produce tapes of the calls for an ongoing trial of one of the alleged conspirators. Instead, officers said they only have data records of phone calls — which KPK officials say don’t belong to any of their phones.

There are now mounting calls for National Police Chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri to take responsibility for repeated allegations last year that the police were in possession of tapes confirming graft within the anti-corruption body.

Money: Indonesia’s central bank is used to dealing with lot of zeros, but now it’s revived a plan to drop at least three of them from the country’s currency, the rupiah. Bank of Indonesia officials said on August 3 that they want to simplify transactions using the rupiah, which often run into the millions.

One plan under discussion is to reduce the rupiah’s exchange rate to the U.S. dollar from Rp 9,000 to just Rp 9, but there are fears the move will devalue the currency. A number of other countries revalued their currencies in recent years, including Poland, Romania, and Turkey.

The Indonesian government was forced to recall some nine million state-subsidized natural gas canisters after the death and injury count from a continuing series of explosions.

The low-cost 3-kilogram canisters were at the core of a government program to have poor households switch from using subsidized kerosene to gas for cooking. However, authorities suspect that unscrupulous dealers transferred the subsidized gas into higher-priced 12-kilogram canisters, but ruptured the seals of the 3-kilogram canisters and left them vulnerable to explosions.

Welfare Minister Agung Laksono said on July 28 that state-run oil and gas firm Pertamina would handle the recall. Explosions have killed more than two dozen and injured at least 130, some with severe burns.

Elsewhere: Indonesian lawmakers who passed a highly-politicized anti-pornography law and backed a new government initiative to block internet pornography sites were not amused after X-rated images were broadcast on August 2 on a television terminal inside the House of Representatives building used to announce the daily schedule.

Authorities who noticed the broadcast were unable to stop the hard-core images from appearing, and it took security personnel 15 minutes to shut down the terminal. Angry lawmakers called for an investigation into the incident, which was blamed on hackers protesting the hypocrisy of a morality campaign by politicians in one of the most corrupt countries on earth.