There are signs that cracks are appearing in the alliance of strange bedfellows in South East Asia. Governments are beginning to realise that they have been negligent of domestic politics; as general elections loom in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, the zeal with which the ‘war on terror’ is pursued may have to be temporarily toned down. This is clearly seen in Indonesia’s refusal to extradite a Singaporean Muslim citizen whom it recently detained.
Mas Slamet Kastari is allegedly the leader of the Singaporean wing of Jamaah Islamiyah, the ‘terrorist’ organisation whose existence has not yet been proved. Indonesia, under domestic pressure not to support the ‘war on terror’, has refused to extradite Slamet to Singapore. It is a tit-for-tat response to Singapore’s refusal to extradite Indonesian economic criminals, many of whom are tycoons close to Suharto, who now invest their ill-gotten wealth in Singaporean industries.
Singapore has already imprisoned dozens of Muslim citizens, arresting them under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which requires no evidence to pronounce a suspect guilty. They are accused of planning everything from bomb-attacks to an Islamic state in the whole of the southeast Asian archipelago–allegations that have not been backed up with any evidence.
Singapore’s fear is understandable. Like Israel in the Middle East, poor in resources and space, the city-state now counts on American support for survival. It is now the main military and intelligence base for the US army. Thus it is no surprise that it immediately joined the ‘war on terror’ and condemned local and regional Muslim groups as ‘terrorists’, telling the public that the resurgence of ‘political Islam’ is dangerous.
Any hint of anti-Americanism is treated with paranoia. When six people answered a mobile text-message and turned up at the US embassy in Singapore with home-made placards to protest against the impending war in Iraq, all of them, including two children, were taken away in police vehicles. Then their homes were searched, their mobile phones thoroughly scrutinised and their computers taken for "further investigations". All these protesters were Muslims.
The regime has been cooperating with the US and Australia to exert pressure on Jakarta to "do more" in the war on terror. But since the fall of Suharto such crackdowns on ‘militants’ are unthinkable unless accompanied by clear evidence. The Bali attack changed that to a certain extent, with Jakarta officially joining the US ‘war on terror’ and arresting scores of Muslims.
One of them, alim Ustaz Abu Bakar Basyir, 65, has been accused of masterminding a series of church bombings in Jakarta in 2000, as well as plotting president Megawati’s assassination. Even before he had answered these accusations, he had to face yet another: that of involvement in the Bali bombing (October 12). The police themselves have admitted that the latest charge to be brought against him is not the result of investigations, but conjecture based on the testimonies of people in custody whom Basyir had never even heard of.
Basyir, the head of a Muslim boarding school, has denied all the allegations. Basyir also maintains that his activities have been limited to religious education. Even the police have not produced anything concrete: on February 4 police commissioner Da’i said that Basyir "knew [of] and endorsed" the Bali bombing. Knowing how serious his allegations are, he refused to say whether Basyir was a suspect, adding that his staff were working on the case.
Since the Bali carnage, desperate attempts have been made to link Basyir and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), which he heads, to the heart of the case. The only piece of ‘evidence’ the police seem to be relying on is so-called ‘investigative’ reports by the Singaporean regime and a lengthy article published by Sidney Jones, an Australian journalist. Her case is so weak that her narration of the whole Ngruki ‘network’ (Ngruki is where Basyir’s boarding school is located) seems to have been extracted from a spy drama. She recently toned down Basyir’s position within the Jemaah Islamiyah to one of the ‘moderates’.
One of the earliest ‘confessions’ to implicate Basyir came from a Kuwaiti detainee in a cell in the US. No one knows who this person really is. The latest is from another detainee held without trial in Singapore, who has made a written statement of his meetings with Basyir in Malaysia and how they planned to launch terror attacks. Even the three suspects who confessed to the Bali killings –Samudra, Mukhlis and Amrozi– have never implicated Basyir during their questioning. The police said that Basyir blessed their actions during a meeting at his house in Ngruki, a claim of which even the local police is doubtful. The only ‘link’ is their attendance of Basyir’s Islamic lectures. Amrozi’s contact, for example, was limited to his being given the job of taking Basyir to al-Islam school in Lamongan, where he had been invited to deliver a lecture. "That is quite normal. A preacher is always met and taken back when he is to preach," said one of the school’s managers. Basyir has maintained that he did not know any of these people as he was only delivering religious lectures while in exile in Malaysia in the 1990s and then in Indonesia. Basyir’s innocence is obvious; it will be interesting to see whether the Indonesian justice system can vindicate its claim of independence when he is tried next month.
Details apart, the entire investigation into the Bali bombing has been ridiculous: from the sight of high-ranking police officials making ‘live’ television broadcasts of suspects’ interrogations and confessions, to flying them to the site of destroyed night clubs in Bali to re-enact how the bomb was planted. The comical start of the investigation is also noteworthy. The first ‘suspect’ arrested was a longhaired man who was picked up from a public place. The police then chartered a special plane to fly the ‘suspect’ to Bali police headquarters. It transpired that the man was a regular loafer in public places. Something similar happened to Raden Mas Acun Hadiwijoyo, who was travelling by train to Jakarta. The police insisted that he was Hambali, the fugitive named as a ‘mastermind’ with links to al-Qa’ida, but later found out that he is the cousin of an Indonesian regional governor, and also an antique merchant with business links with president Megawati.
Yet, to be fair, the Indonesians have not displayed the kind of subservience to the US that is being shown by Pakistan and other regimes in the Muslim world, mainly because of strong pressure from Indonesian Muslim groups and leaders. President Megawati has even been warned not to play second fiddle to the US, and told to concentrate on the corruption and sleaze plaguing the country since the overthrow of Suharto.
The Indonesian police force is working under intense pressure, not merely from the government but also from the US and Australia, who set up intelligence networks in the area immediately after the Bali incident. A report in Tempo magazine on February 10 revealed that the Australian police force had offered a reduction in sentences to Bali-bombing suspects if they would implicate Basyir. If this is true, then it is part of a wider plan to blame Islamic activists in the region for ‘terrorism’.