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 Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 10:55 GMT
Profile: Jafar Umar Thalib
Indonesian militants
Jafar Umar Thalib is accused of inciting violence
Jafar Umar Thalib, who has been cleared of inciting religious violence in Indonesia, was the head of Laskar Jihad, a now-disbanded militant Islamic organisation.

Its members are accused of carrying out acts of violence against Christians on Indonesia's eastern Moluccas islands, including a massacre last month in which at least 12 people were murdered.

Jafar now openly scorns Bin Laden's understanding of Islam as misguided

Police accused Mr Jafar, a 40-year-old Indonesian cleric of Yemeni descent, of sowing hatred against Christians, particularly in the Moluccan provincial capital, Ambon.

In a speech at a mosque in April last year, he reportedly implored Muslims to "to prepare our bombs, and ready our guns".

Two days later about dozen masked men with guns, grenades and daggers attacked the village of Soya, near Ambon, torching about 30 homes and a church and killing at least 12 Christians.

Christian sources said the Soya attack was carried out by a Muslim mob armed with machetes, knives and bombs. Other reports said the attackers were armed with M-16 assault rifle, a US-made weapon used by the Indonesian military.

Mr Jafar denied Laskar Jihad was involved, though the group is known to have sent thousands of men to the Moluccas since 2000 as religious violence in the province continued.

The attack on Soya was the worst incident since Christians and Muslims signed a pact last February to end three years of fighting which had claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Laskar Jihad was disbanded in October, shortly after the bombings on Bali which have been widely blamed on Islamic militants.

Afghanistan link

It is not the first time Mr Jafar has been dogged by controversy.

In 2001 the police arrested him for allegedly presiding over a makeshift Islamic court that ordered a rapist be stoned to death.

Stoning is illegal under Indonesian law, and Mr Jafar allegedly led the execution himself, though he was never prosecuted.

Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz after visiting Jafar Umar Thalib, at police headquarters
The Indonesian vice-president has visited Mr Jafar in detention
Mr Jafar's goal is the implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law in Indonesia.

But critics say his true agenda is more personal and that he wants fame, respect and influence.

They also say his knowledge of Islam is artificial.

At a seminar last year in Jakarta, Mr Jafar was no match for Nurcholish Madjid, arguably Indonesia's most internationally known Muslim thinker.

Mr Nurcholish dominated the talk, lecturing Mr Jafar about classical works of the Muslim worlds and the Shariah. Mr Jafar mostly mused.

Mr Jafar is tall and plumper than his reputation as an ascetic would suggest. He is pale-skinned with dark brown eyes. His moustache is neatly trimmed, and he has a straggly beard, which he constantly combs between his thumb and forefinger.

Mr Jafar got his first experience of militancy fighting alongside the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. He claimed he met Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden while visiting Pakistan.

Mr Jafar now openly scorns Bin Laden's understanding of Islam as misguided.

Mr Jafar returned to Indonesia in the early 1990s and oversaw a network of Koranic boarding schools.

His name was relatively unknown until 1999 when he set up the Laskar Jihad and allegedly began to send militias to the Moluccan Islands, apparently with the backing of several mainstream politicians.

See also:

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28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
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25 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
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