Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Following months of criticism, the Indonesian government has announced new steps to tackle terrorism, including proposed security legislation and heightened cooperation with U.S. officials investigating alleged al Qaeda activities in the world's most populous Muslim country.
Jakarta has invited U.S. law enforcement officials to visit and take part in a joint investigation into claims that al-Qaeda-linked cells have been operating in Indonesia, Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced.
The government had also received the go-ahead to send representatives to interrogate a suspect in U.S. custody about claims that he headed al Qaeda's Southeast Asian operations from Indonesia, Susilo said.
He was addressing a media briefing intended to show that President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government was "committed to stopping, containing and fighting terrorism."
The suspect, Kuwaiti-national Omar al-Faruq, was arrested in Indonesia last June and quietly handed over to the U.S. military.
He subsequently provided information that prompted the U.S. to shut down several embassies in Southeast Asia over the Sept. 11 anniversary last month, for fear of truck-bomb attacks.
According to a Time magazine report citing a CIA document, al-Faruq also claimed to have been al Qaeda's top operative in the region, and said that the network's regional affiliate, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), had plotted terrorist attacks, including attempts to assassinate Megawati.
Al-Faruq also named controversial Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir as spiritual head of JI, according to the reports.
Bashir has denied the reports, and a spokesman for a group he heads called the Indonesian Mujahiddin Council said at the weekend it would file criminal and civil charges against Time for depicting the cleric as a terrorist.
Just because Bashir has praised al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's struggle, added spokesman Fauzan Al-Anshari, did not mean there was any structural cooperation between them.
The Indonesian police have questioned Bashir but say there is not sufficient evidence to justify arresting him.
The government also said it lacked the type of security legislation used by neighboring countries to detain dozens of terrorist suspects without charge.
That may soon change, however.
Media representatives attending the Jakarta briefing were told that anti-terrorism legislation was being drafted.
According to legal professor Romli Atmasasmita, who heads a team drafting the bill, the proposed legislation will not allow lengthy detention without trial as is the case in Singapore and Malaysia, but will enable detention of suspects for 24 hours, with a possible extension of another 48 hours.
The challenge for the drafters, he wrote in an article published Monday, was to develop "laws that can prevent and punish terrorism while respecting democracy, including strong political and religious dissent."
Human rights campaigners are concerned that security legislation may be abused in a country whose military has been implicated in grave rights abuses.
Former President Suharto suppressed dissent for three decades through the use of a notorious subversion law, which was scrapped after he was ousted in 1998.
Ministers and security chiefs giving the briefings conceded what has long been alleged by other Southeast Asian governments and Washington. Terrorists were present in Indonesia, they said, although any al Qaeda link had yet to be proven.
They showed video footage of masked civilians being trained in weapons use and carrying out a mock attack on a house.
The video, apparently shot in a part of the country where Muslim-Christian clashes have taken a serious toll, was one of ten reportedly seized from an Arab man, Sayem Reda, arrested in Jakarta last month.
Reporters were also told that the military's counter-terrorism unit, which lost its internal security role to the police in 2000, would once again be used in this area, together with the police and a civilian intelligence agency.
After briefing journalists, government officials were due Tuesday to brief mainstream Muslim religious leaders, some of whom have voiced concern that Jakarta may bend too far to placate the U.S.
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