WASHINGTON – The United States on Wednesday branded a group of Islamic extremists in Southeast Asia who are linked to the Al Qaeda network as a terrorist organization and asked the nations of the world to dry up its assets.
The group is suspected in the bombing of a nightclub in Bali Oct. 12 that killed more than 180 people, but a senior U.S. official told reporters the United States had made no connection as Indonesian authorities pursue their investigation.
Designation of Jemaah Islamiyah as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department makes it a crime to contribute funds to it. Also, the group's members are barred from receiving visas to travel to the United States.
The next step, said the official, who spoke to reporters under rules that shielded his identity, is to ask the United Nations to approve sanctions that would freeze the organization's assets, prevent sale of weapons to it, and stop members of the group from entering or traveling to the 190 countries that are U.N. members.
The official said Jemaah Islamiyah is a regional terrorism power that communicates regularly with Al Qaeda and some of whose members trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Colin Power, in a statement distributed to reporters, said the United States was sending "a powerful signal" that the countries of Southeast Asia will not tolerate terrorism.
Powell did not appear in public, and questions by reporters at the State Department were referred to a senior administration official.
The designation could put pressure on Indonesia to crack down on militants and also strengthen President Bush's hand in talks this weekend with President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Ever since explosions rocked the nightclub in Bali, the Bush administration has urged Indonesia to take a strong stand against terror.
The Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah has cells operating throughout Southeast Asia. It seeks to create an Islamic state comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the southern Philippines, according to a report in May by the State Department's counterterrorism office.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Before the explosions on the resort island the Bush administration had moved gingerly in dealing with Indonesia on terrorism.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said after the blast, "You cannot pretend it (terrorism) doesn't exist in your country."
Powell, who will participate in this weekend's talks, said he hoped the attack "reinforces Indonesia's determination to deal with this kind of threat."
Jemaah Islamiyah will become the 35th organization branded as a terrorist group by the State Department.
This year's department report on terrorism said recent arrests of group members revealed links with Al Qaeda, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.
According to the report, Jemaah Islamiyah began developing plans in 1997 to target U.S. interests in Singapore.
Last December, Singapore arrested 15 members, some of whom had trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and planned to attack the U.S. and Israeli embassies and British and Australian diplomatic buildings in Singapore, the report said.
Additionally, it said, Singapore police found forged immigration stamps, bomb-making material and Al Qaeda documents in suspects' homes.
Powell had announced a $50 million, three-year anti-terrorism assistance package during visit to Indonesia in August. The Bali bombing could prompt more U.S. help.
The United States had warned Indonesia in early October that it was becoming a home to terrorists. U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce met with Megawati to press for action against terrorist groups.
Bush, meanwhile, said he hoped to hear in their upcoming meeting "the resolve of a leader that recognizes that any time terrorists take hold in a country it is going to weaken the country itself."
"There has to be a firm and deliberate desire to find the killers before they kill somebody else," he said.
The Bali bombing, which mostly killed Australian tourists, forced Indonesia's government to acknowledge for the first time that Al Qaeda was active in the Southeast Asian archipelago. Some of Indonesia's neighbors, particularly Singapore, had complained Indonesia was reluctant to crack down on Islamic militants.