Officials Say Cleric Approved Bali Blast

Times Staff Writer

Militant Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the suspected leader of the Jemaah Islamiah terror group, approved plans for last year's Bali bombing during meetings with suspects who were later arrested in the attack, police said Wednesday.

Police spokesman Edward Aritonang said Bashir gave his blessing to the Oct. 12 Bali nightclub bombing that killed nearly 200 people, most of them foreign tourists.

Police provided no details of the evidence against Bashir, or of his alleged meetings with other suspects, but said they have enough to charge him for his involvement in the attack.

Bashir, 64, who has been under arrest since Oct. 18 on other terror charges, denies any role in terror activities and has refused to cooperate with investigators.

The case against Bashir is a significant step forward for police, who began their investigation of the Bali attack dismissing possible links to the longtime militant and the Jemaah Islamiah network.

Bashir, who once served a prison term in Indonesia for sedition and later fled to Malaysia, is the highest-ranking suspect to be held in connection with the Bali plot.

Police have arrested 29 others in the case, including 19 people said to be directly involved in the bombing.

Among them are several alleged members of the terrorist group who police say played a central role in organizing the plot, selecting the targets and obtaining the explosives.

Police say Bashir served as spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, a tightly organized group linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Bashir also played a part in overseeing Jemaah Islamiah's terror plans -- no attack could go forward without his approval.

Erwin Mappaseng, the head of Indonesia's criminal investigation bureau, said Bashir approved bombings carried out by the terrorist group in Indonesia from 2000 to 2002, including attacks on churches on Christmas Eve 2000.

"This group can only work after they get a blessing from the emir, which in this case is Abu Bakar Bashir," Mappaseng told the Reuters news service.

"It started in 2000 that each bombing needed the blessing and approval from the emir, including the most recent, which was Bali," he said.

The new evidence against Bashir is based on statements from suspects who have been arrested in the Bali bombing. Several Jemaah Islamiah documents have been recovered in raids of suspects' houses, but it is unclear whether any of them also implicate Bashir.

Police recommended last week that Bashir be charged with instigating a series of church bombings and attempting to overthrow the Indonesian government.

Bashir plotted to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri, they say.

Authorities are still searching for at least 10 other suspects in the Bali attack, including an Indonesian cleric known as Hambali, who reportedly has close ties to Al Qaeda, and a Malaysian known as Dr. Azahari, who allegedly designed the car bomb that caused most of the damage.

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