JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian anti-terror police detained radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir on Monday and several other militants in a crackdown on a network found making bombs and planning to attack the country’s president.
The detention of Bashir, considered by many foreign governments as a driving force for radical Islamic movements in Indonesia, shows Jakarta is stepping up a fight against a relatively new network plotting a coup to form a sharia state.
Indonesia’s efforts to combat religious extremism and its increased political stability have been welcomed by investors, who have poured into longer-dated bonds and stocks despite deadly attacks on hotels in Jakarta last year.
It underlines the change in tactics by militants away from Western targets — such as hotels in Jakarta or tourists in Bali — to state institutions to try to destabilise the government.
“From documents, we knew this group had for some time made the president the target of their attack,” said police spokesman Edward Aritonang after Bashir’s detention.
Bashir, who told reporters his detention was a plot by the United States, was linked by the police’s anti-terror unit Detachment 88 to a militant training camp in the western region Aceh.
Aceh is the only province that has Islamic sharia law in a country which is home to the world’s largest Muslim population.
“Investigators from Detachment 88 found a clear link from the militant training in Aceh, plans of bomb attacks in several places to the discovery of a laboratory in Cibiru ... we reached a conclusion that one of the persons involved in these well-planned events was Abu Bakar Bashir,” said Aritonang.
Bashir is the leader of Islamist group Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), and a founder of the al-Mukmin boarding school at Ngruki in Solo, one of whose graduates was executed for planning the Bali bomb attacks in 2002 that killed over 200 people.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report in July that JAT believes jihad against local officials who reject Islamic law is as important as the one against the United States and its allies.
The group had been planning a car bomb attack on the police national headquarters, and targeted several embassies, Aritonang told a news conference.
Police said earlier this year that militants from the Aceh-based group planned to assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other state officials at an independence day ceremony on August 17, and also planned to target U.S. President Barack Obama during a visit.
The police captured five other members of JAT’s military wing during a raid on a house in Cibiru in western Java over the weekend, as well as bullets and chemicals to make bombs.
“In Cibiru they had already attempted two practice explosions...The bomb they made was tested with an explosion that turned out to be quite big,” said Aritonang.
He said police had now detained 66 out of its 102 suspects of the Aceh-based group. Bashir has been detained twice before.
Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia and Sunanda Creagh; Writing by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher