Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir in terror arrest

Anti-terror police escort radical Islamist cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir in Jakarta Mr Ba'asyir was cleared of involvement with Jemaah Islamiah in 2006

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The radical Muslim cleric, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, has been arrested on terror charges in Indonesia.

Officials say he helped set up and fund an Islamic militant training camp in Aceh, uncovered by police in February.

Mr Ba'asyir told reporters outside police headquarters in Jakarta that his arrest had been arranged by the US.

Mr Ba'asyir had previously served 26 months in jail before being cleared of involvement with Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the group behind the 2002 Bali attacks.

The 71-year-old was imprisoned for conspiracy over the bombings, in which 202 people died. However, his conviction was overturned and he was released in 2006.

He has been accused of giving spiritual leadership to JI, which has links to al-Qaeda - a claim he denies.

'Significant allegations'

Mr Ba'asyir was arrested in West Java by anti-terror police but has not yet been formally charged. Under Indonesia's anti-terror laws police can question him for up to a week without filing charges.

Analysis

Karishma Vaswani

This is a significant arrest - if the police can make the charges against him stick. This is the third time the Islamic cleric has been arrested.

Mr Ba'asyir has denied all links to any extremist activity - he maintains he is a spiritual, religious leader and that he is being accused unfairly.

Analysts say it is unlikely Mr Ba'asyir's arrest will affect the day-to-day operation of terror cells in the country.

Most believe that Mr Ba'asyir provides moral and spiritual justification to extremist groups, giving them his religious approval, but that he is not involved in planning or execution of terror attacks.

While it would be fair to say that most Indonesian Muslims equate Mr Ba'asyir with extremism because of his radical rhetoric, his arrest could create a wave of public sympathy among some Indonesians who, seeing images of an elderly man arrested and possibly put behind bars, may feel he is being treated unjustly.

Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia's anti-terror unit, told the BBC that Mr Ba'asyir was detained on terrorism charges.

"He had been involved in terror network in Aceh. As we know, that terror group in Aceh is linked with Jemaah Islamiah and many other extremist groups in our country," Mr Mbai told reporters.

"One of the allegations is that he provided funding to the Aceh military training camp. It's one of many allegations weighed against him," he said.

The BBC's Karishma Vaswani in Jakarta quoted police as saying that Mr Ba'asyir played an active role in setting up the camp, appointing key people and receiving reports from extremists in the field.

Our correspondent says these are very different allegations being levelled against Mr Ba'asyir, who in the past has been linked to extremism in a spiritual and moral capacity but not in the planning or creation of a terror network.

Arriving at Jakarta police headquarters, Mr Ba'asyir said: "This is God's grace to reduce sin. This is engineered by America."

Mr Ba'asyir's son, Abdul Rohim, appealed for the fair treatment of his father and said his mother had also been detained.

"We appeal to police to treat my parents well. He is innocent, he was just carrying out his obligations as a Muslim," his son said.

'New front in extremism'

Mr Ba'asyir is the leader of the hardline Islamist group Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), which was created in 2008.

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir

  • 1972: Set up the radical al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Java
  • 1978: Jailed by Suharto regime for inciting rejection of secular national ideology in favour of Islamic state
  • 1982: Flees to Malaysia after release, spends 17 years in exile
  • 1999: Returns to Indonesia and renews call for Sharia law
  • 2003: Accused of being spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, the group behind the Bali bombings - a claim he denies
  • 2006: Released after conviction for conspiracy in Bali attacks is overturned, after serving 26 months
  • 2008: Formed radical group Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT)

It was recently described in a report by the Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group (ICG) as an "above-ground organisation" that embraced individuals with known ties to fugitive extremists.

The ICG believes there are links between JAT and the militant training camp uncovered in Aceh earlier this year.

Mr Ba'asyir denied having any links to the Aceh camp.

Officials believe this group had plans to launch a brazen attack on Indonesia, similar to the type of assault seen in Mumbai, India, in November 2008, when Islamist militants killed 166 people.

JAT has denied it has any connection to extremism and insists it is a legitimate Islamic organisation.

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