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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 12:14 GMT
Analysis: Indonesia's Islamic radicals
FPI Anti-US protest
Anti-US protests began before the bombing
By the BBC's Richard Galpin in Jakarta

Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, has a wide range of radical Islamist groups - many of which have close links with similar militant organisations throughout the Muslim world.

Some Indonesian radicals may be linked with international terrorism.

We have sent between 100 to 200 people each year to Afghanistan, to be trained to be good soldiers for Islam

Al Chaidar,
Darul Islam
United States Government officials have warned on several occasions that their "war on terrorism" could be extended to include Indonesia and other countries in south-east Asia.

Even before American warplanes began bombing Afghanistan, Muslim extremists in Indonesia had taken to the streets.

They threatened to burn down the US embassy in Jakarta, kill the ambassador, and forcibly expel thousands of Westerners living there, if fellow-Muslims in Afghanistan died as a result of American military actions.

Although small in number and on the margins of a generally tolerant society, the radical Islamic groups have become much more outspoken and visible.

Rhetorical threats

Habib Rizieq Syihab the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) - which has several thousand members and a reputation for attacking bars and nightclubs - has demanded an end to diplomatic relations with Washington.

Laskar Jihad protest
Laskar Jihad: Fighting a "holy war" in the Moluccas
"As long as there is no evidence linking Osama to the 11 September attacks in the United States - and he has sworn he is innocent - then he is not guilty," he said.

"So when he called for a Jihad for the truth, we accepted his call."

But the threats by the FPI and the other radical groups have remained rhetorical.

The radical Islamists are divided over strategy and objectives.

But senior US officials fear they may have links with international terrorist organisations such as Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

'Al-Qaeda link'

At the beginning of this year, according to the US, al-Qaeda set up a cell in Indonesia.

And in recent weeks, one Indonesian radical organisation, Darul Islam, has made some startling statements.

The behaviour of the Islamic Defenders Front has been the same for years - attacking bars and brothels and so on

Harold Crouch,
International Crisis Group
Its spokesman, Al Chaidar, openly claims to have strong links with the Taleban in Afghanistan.

"Every year since 1989, there has been co-operation in military training, and we have sent between 100 to 200 people each year to Afghanistan, to be trained to be good soldiers for Islam.

He says that assistance from an international network of Muslim extremists - including al-Qaeda - flows into Indonesia.

This, he says, is primarily to help local Muslim fighters continue their Jihad or holy war against the Christian community in the Moluccan islands in eastern Indonesia.

But many observers in Indonesia are sceptical, including Harold Crouch, director of the International Crisis Group in Jakarta which has produced a report on local extremist groups.

"It is of course possible that money has gone into bank accounts here. The real test is whether there's anything in the behaviour of radical groups in Indonesia that can't be explained, and which requires us to say that there must be some kind of external force behind those people," he says.

"And the behaviour of the Islamic Defenders Front has been the same for years - attacking bars and brothels and so on."

Internal conflict

The conflict between the Christian and Muslim communities in the Moluccan Islands, or Maluku, which has claimed thousands of lives since 1999, is another reason why the US has been turning its attention to Indonesia.

Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden: "Knew nothing about religion"
The fighting has brought to prominence to another radical Islamic group, Laskar Jihad - regarded as perhaps the most extreme of these organisations.

It has trained thousands of men and sent them to Maluku to fight against the Christians.

In Laskar Jihad's compound, near the city of Yogyakarta in southern Java, television and music have been banned and women wear the burqa.

The leader, Jafar Umar Thalib, says that in the 1980s whilst studying at an Islamic college in Pakistan, he joined the Afghan Mujahideen in their war against the occupying Soviet forces.

A senior official from al-Qaeda promised us some funding and training, as long as we followed his organisation's ideology

Jafar Umar Thalib,
Laskar Jihad
He says he met Bin Laden, but did not want any dealings with him because Bin Laden "knew nothing about true religion".

And he says that distance has been maintained ever since, despite some very recent offers of assistance.

"About three months ago a senior official from al-Qaeda came to visit us in our headquarters in Ambon in the Moluccan islands. He promised us some funding and training, as long as we followed his organisation's ideology," Jafar Umar Thalib said.

"But we found out that they are from a different sect which is not in line with true Islam. So we threw him out and said that if we caught him again in Indonesia, we'd help the authorities to expel him from the country."

Under pressure

Whatever the truth about the alleged links between these groups and al-Qaeda, the government says it is now carrying out its own investigation.

And there are concerns that extremist groups across south-east Asia may be co-operating with each other.

Over the past two years there has been a series of terrorist attacks in Indonesia.

The former defence minister, Yuwono Sudarsono, says last year's bomb attack on the Philippines ambassador in Jakarta for example was probably the work of the Filipino radical group Abu Sayyaf.

So far, there is little that can be said for certain about links between local Islamic extremists and radical groups around the world.

But the Indonesian Government knows it is under pressure to either disprove the American allegations, or take tough action against the extremists on its own soil.

See also:

26 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesian Islamists hold fire
25 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia clerics threaten jihad
19 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Islamic groups warn of Indonesia violence
20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
14 Sep 01 | Americas
Islam: Faith under fire
23 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Megawati Sukarnoputri
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