Indonesian Cleric Praises Bin Laden's 'Brave Struggle'

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Indonesian police on Friday were questioning for a second day a Muslim cleric accused by two other regional governments of being a leader of an al Qaeda-linked terrorist network.

In a statement Thursday, Abu Bakar Bashir denied links with al Qaeda but said he respected "the struggle of [al Qaeda leader] Osama bin Laden, who has bravely represented the world's Muslims in their fight against the arrogant United States of America and their allies."

Bashir also denied claims by Malaysia and Singapore that he is a leader of a group called Jemaah Islamiah that was plotting terrorist acts.

Some of the group's alleged members are now in custody in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines on suspicion of involvement in a plot to bomb U.S. and other Western embassies and facilities in Singapore.

The Singapore government said Thursday it had discovered a videotape at the Singapore home of one of the arrested suspects which was identical to one found in the rubble of the house of an al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan.

Both videos show a Singapore suburban commuter train station, with commentary on how an attack on U.S. military personnel could be carried out.

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said in a statement the discovery of the second tape proved a "direct link" between al-Qaida and extremists operating in Southeast Asia.

At least eight of the 13 suspects in custody in Singapore and 10 of the 23 men arrested in Malaysia received military training in Afghanistan, according to the two governments.

Despite the fact both governments named Bashir as a potential ringleader, the 63-year-old cleric told journalists earlier this week he had not even been approached by Indonesian police. Shortly thereafter, the government announced he had been summoned for questioning.

In his statement, issued after the questioning in Jakarta Thursday, Bashir said neither bin Laden - "a true Muslim fighter" - nor al Qaeda had been found guilty in court of the crimes they were accused of, "yet they have been slaughtered by the pro-Western imperialist media."

Bashir is one of three Indonesian clerics whom Malaysia says are responsible for indoctrinating Muslim militants.

One of the other two has been named as Hambali Nurjaman. According to reports from Malaysia, officials believe Hambali met two of the Sept. 11 hijackers - Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi - during a visit to Malaysia by the two in January 2000.

Singapore also accuses Hambali of arranging the al Qaeda training in Afghanistan for some of the men it has in custody.

The whereabouts of Hambali, an Indonesian with permanent residence status in Malaysia, are unknown, Malaysia police chief Norian Mai told a news conference Thursday. He was not in Malaysia, but could be in Indonesia, Pakistan or Afghanistan, he said.

See also:
Arrests Provide More Evidence Of Anti-US Terror Plans (Jan. 14, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow