Indonesian Police Declare Islamic Spiritual Leader Suspect in 2000 Bombings

The spiritual leader of an Islamic militant group that reports have linked to the Bali nightclub bombings was named a suspect in a series of deadly church bombings across Indonesia in 2000, a police spokesman said Thursday.

Deputy National Police Spokesman Brig Gen. Edward Aritonang told The Associated Press that Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual head of the Jemaah Islamiyah group, would be summoned to appear for questioning Saturday.

Although Jemaah Islamiyah has been linked both to Al Qaeda and in speculation to the bombings last weekend on Bali island that left nearly 200 dead, Bashir has denied any connection to the attacks.

Indonesia has come under enormous international pressure to act against Bashir and Jemaah Islamiyah.

But Indonesia has long feared that taking action against Bashir could fuel a backlash by Islamic extremists. Government ministers for the first time — delicately — said this week that Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah exist in the world's most populous Muslim country, but have tiptoed around the issue of moving against it and Bashir.

Aritonang said Bashir had not been named a suspect in the Bali bombings, but instead in a series of attacks on churches on Christmas eve 2000. The church bombings in Jakarta and nine other cities and towns killed 19 people and injured dozens.

Aritonang said police decided to declare Bashir a suspect in the church bombings after Indonesian investigators returned from the United States, where they had questioned Omar Al-Faruq, a suspected Al Qaeda Southeast Asian operative.

Al-Faruq was arrested in Indonesia in June and handed over to U.S. authorities.

The United States and other countries have called on Indonesian authorities to arrest Bashir. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has pointed to the likely involvement in the Bali blast of the Al Qaeda terror network through Jemaah Islamiyah — which he wants listed by the United Nations as a terrorist organization.

Indonesia's neighbors, Singapore and Malaysia, have jailed dozens of suspected Jemaah Islamiyah operatives after they were implicated in plots to attack Western targets in those countries.