Solo/Jakarta, Oct. 28 (Reuters): Indonesian police removed a radical Muslim cleric suspected of leading the Jemaah Islamiah militant network from his hospital bed in central Java today as his weeping supporters and security forces clashed outside.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 64, was flown to Jakarta and taken to a police hospital, but there was no immediate word on when he would be questioned about a series of Christian church bombings and an alleged plot to kill President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Supporters tried to prevent police removing Bashir, who denies any involvement in terrorism, from the hospital in the city of Solo as international pressure mounts on Megawati to act against Muslim extremists following the bloody Bali bombs.
Witnesses said plainclothes police broke down the door of Bashir’s hospital room after three supporters locked it and lay on top of their leader as fellow students fought police outside. The policemen kicked and hauled them off Bashir, put the cleric in a wheelchair, pushed him from the hospital and drove him away, they said.
Outside, hundreds of teenagers, tears streaming down their faces, threw rocks and exchanged punches with police. Ten policemen were seen bleeding. After police drove away with Bashir, who has not been accused of involvement in the Bali blasts which killed more than 180 people although Jemaah Islamiah is suspected of being behind them, an aide called for calm and most of his supporters left.
“He has been taken, but everyone must calm down and show we are good Muslims,” said Irfan Awwas. “This was an abduction of an preacher amid his own supporters. This was inhumane.”
Chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also sought to cool the mood over Bashir’s detention, which some foreign governments have said could foment demonstrations in which Westerners might become targets.
“We should not become emotional,” Yudhoyono told a Jakarta news conference. “Abu Bakar Bashir is summoned by the police for investigation, not for punishment. He will not be declared guilty or convicted before a court decides that.”
Mahendradatta, one of Bashir’s many lawyers, fumed, however. “This was state terrorism,” he told reporters in Jakarta. Another lawyer, Muhammad Assegaf, said Bashir had refused to sign documents acknowledging his detention. Assegaf, a prominent lawyer who has long represented the family of former President Suharto, quoted police as saying the hospital in Solo had pronounced Bashir healthy but said he needed four days’ rest.
Diplomats see the investigation of Bashir as a litmus test of Megawati’s resolve to crack down on Muslim extremists after the Bali bombings.