JAKARTA, Indonesia – An alleged Southeast Asian terror leader threatened to call for holy war against Indonesian police Thursday, days after an anti-terror squad shot dead 15 suspected Islamic extremists.
Abu Bakar Bashir, accused by Australia and the United States of being a key figure in the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, said Muslims should stop serving in the police's anti-terror squad on Indonesia's conflict-ridden Sulawesi island.
"If Muslims are being killed, then we must fight back," the 69-year-old cleric told around 100 hard-liners outside the National Human Rights Commission in the capital, Jakarta, where they were protesting Monday's killings.
"If necessary, we must organize a jihad," he said.
Police say they shot the 15 men Monday after coming under attack as they entered a militant stronghold in Poso, a flash-point town on Sulawesi. They recovered large numbers of guns, bombs and ammunition.
Islamic groups and politicians have criticized police following the raid.
However, Indonesia's vice president, other government officials and most of the media in the world's most populous Muslim nation have supported the operation.
"There is an attempt in Poso to eliminate the Muslims so the unbelievers will control the town," Bashir said. "I curse the actions of (the anti-terror squad) Densus 88 for killing Muslims and helping the unbelievers."
The International Crisis Group think tank said Wednesday that the operation appeared to be justified, but warned that it could backfire by inflaming Islamic terrorists on Sulawesi and elsewhere in Indonesia.
Six years ago, Sulawesi was the scene of bloody battles between Muslim and Christian gangs that left about 1,000 people dead and attracted Islamic militants from all over Indonesia.
Over the past two years, Islamic extremists — some believed to Jemaah Islamiyah members — have carried out a series of shootings, beheadings and bombings against Christian men, women and children.
Bashir was released from jail last year after serving 26 months behind bars for conspiracy in the deadly 2002 Bali bombings. In December, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction and ordered that his name be cleared.
Bashir, who founded a boarding school attended by some of Indonesia's most notorious terrorists, has always denied any wrongdoing. Since his release from jail, he has continued preaching a hard-line, intolerant brand of Islam, but has consistently condemned terrorism.Click here for more news from Asia.