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Islamic boost to Megawati crackdown

Jakarta, Oct. 20 (Reuters): Indonesia’s largest Islamic group has said it supports new anti-terror decrees introduced after the Bali bombing, as the US President vowed to help track down the killers of more than 180 people.

A week after the blasts on Indonesia’s main tourist island, investigators were still pouring over the bombsite for clues while Australia came to a standstill to mourn the victims and flags were lowered in Britain in memory of the dead.

Police arrested a Muslim cleric suspected of links to the al Qaida yesterday but said the man, Abu Bakar Bashir, was too ill to face questioning today.

Earlier in the weekend, President Megawati Sukarnoputri had signed emergency anti-terror regulations aimed at giving authorities wide powers in the hunt for the perpetrators of the Bali bombings.

A leader of the 40-million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation, welcomed the anti-terror decrees. “Our current conditions need regulation to make efforts to tackle terrorism more effectively,” Masduki Baidlowi, deputy secretary general of the Nahdlatul Ulama, said.

Baidlowi said authorities should be careful not to abuse the regulations and must only act on evidence, but he did not think there would be the major human rights problems some have feared in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Syafii Maarif, chairman of the 30-million-strong moderate Muhammadiyah, dismissed concern that the regulations would be used to arrest Muslims guilty of no more than a hardline approach to religion. “It’s rubbish,” he said. “If those so-called radicals did not do anything wrong, they should not worry.”

Even before the Bali bombings, Indonesia had been under international pressure to act against radical groups linked by foreign intelligence agencies to terrorism but the government feared a backlash.

Indonesia’s Muslims, 85 percent of the population, are mostly moderate but many fear the US-led war on terror could be used against Islam in general.

But the Bali attack seems to have galvanised authorities into action, not only with the issuing of the decrees, but also with the arrest of Bashir, who was held after he was taken to hospital with what doctors said were respiratory and heart problems.

Police say he faces questioning about attacks in the capital nearly two years ago.

“Bashir is still in our custody in hospital but because he is sick, he cannot be questioned and, therefore, we’ll keep him there under supervision,” Arianto Sutadi, national police director for general crimes, said.

Sutadi said there had been no decision on when the cleric would be moved from the central Java city of Solo to the capital as that depended on his health. Bashir denies any connection to militant groups and says he is just an Islamic teacher.

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