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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 13:02 GMT
Indonesia confirms al-Qaeda presence
Map of Indonesia
By the BBC's Jonathan Head in Jakarta

Authorities in Indonesia have acknowledged for the first time the ties between local Islamic groups and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Sulawesi refugees in 2000
About 200 people died in violence on Sulawesi last year
Confirmation that al-Qaeda members have been fighting on the island of Sulawesi came in a statement from the head of the National Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Hendropriyono,

More than 2,000 police and troop reinforcements were sent into the area last week after renewed clashes between Muslims and Christians.

A militant Islamic organisation called Laskar Jihad, believed to have links with al-Qaeda, has sent thousands of armed fighters to Sulawesi to support local Muslims.

The Indonesian statement is almost certainly a response to sustained diplomatic pressure from Western governments to take action against groups with links to al-Qaeda.

US frustrations

Washington has yet to list Indonesia as a state supporting terrorism but it is frustrated by the unwillingness of the Indonesia security forces to rein in Islamic militants.

In contrast, neighbouring Malaysia and the Philippines are regarded as giving full co-operation in the campaign against terrorist networks.

Muslims protesting at US air strikes on Afghanistan, October 2001
Many Indonesian Muslims are angry at the US
The Laskar Jihad group cited by General Hendropriyono is headed by a veteran of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

It is well organised and well funded with possible backing from factions of the armed forces.

It has trained and sent thousands of fighters to wage Jihad or Holy War against Christians in eastern Indonesia, last year in the Mulukun Islands and in recent weeks in central Sulawesi.

Laskar Jihad members insist they are not linked to al-Qaeda and only wish to defend Muslim communities inside Indonesia.

However, a number of foreign fighters have been seen campaigning with Laskar Jihad.

The international community is concerned that as the group expands its influence, it may provide a haven for al-Qaeda after the loss of its bases in Afghanistan.

See also:

12 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccas tense after riots
04 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sulawesi braced for more violence
03 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
More bloodshed feared in Sulawesi
23 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Irian Jaya to get more autonomy
04 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sulawesi violence claims 18 lives
20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
26 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Troubled history of the Moluccas
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