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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 22:24 GMT 23:24 UK
Java's bespectacled terror suspect
Abu Bakar Ba'asyir
The authorities are keeping a close eye on Ba'asyir

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir does not cut the terrifying figure one would imagine of a man Washington deems a leading suspect in the murky world of international terrorism.

I support Osama Bin Laden's struggle because his is the true struggle to uphold Islam, not terror - the terrorists are America and Israel

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir
This frail, rather withered old man with a thin wispy beard wears an embroidered white skull cap and has heavy glasses perched on prominent on his aquiline nose.

He sits reading quietly with his class of students, at this religious school in the small town of Solo in central Java.

It is a tranquil scene - young boys hungry for learning feeding off every word that comes from this wise man of Islam.

Yet at the front of the classroom sits the bombshell for any idea of moderation - a bright yellow and blue poster proclaims to this fertile ground of young minds: "Americans are terrorists".

It is as clear a message of hostility to the United States as one could imagine.

The message is drummed home in daily lessons here; holy war, or jihad, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir teaches, is a necessity which all of his students should be prepared to face.

Let there be no doubt; ask him about Osama Bin Laden, and the reply is to the point - he is a great Muslim warrior.

Conspiracy theories

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiah, a radical Islamic group in Indonesia - said to be linked to al-Qaeda.

Clutching a copy of the Koran, he spoke to the BBC after giving his morning class at the school on Java - and his hostility to the United States was made plain in a series of typically outspoken comments.

Rescue workers carrying a body bag from the bomb site
Mr Ba'asyir condemned the loss of innocent lives
Belying his gentle demeanour, Mr Ba'asyir made a scathing attack on President Bush's war on terror.

He condemned the bombing at the weekend at the night club on the holiday island of Bali and, denouncing the loss of so many innocent lives, declared the United States the culprit of the attack.

America, he said, was itself a terrorist state - and there were a number of factors pointing to American involvement in the Bali bombing.

The kind of explosives used were not available in Indonesia, he said.

There were very few Americans among the casualties, and the attack followed a series of warnings from Washington for Americans not to go to Indonesia.

Because of their hatred towards Islam they are pointing their accusation to me

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir
The Bali bombing, he claimed, was an American conspiracy to justify and prove this argument that Indonesia was a terrorist cell - even though there was no truth to the American allegations.

This wasn't just his suspicion, he maintained, it was a view shared by many ordinary Indonesians.

In his interview, Mr Ba'asyir denied any links with al-Qaeda. As far as he was concerned, the organisation did not even exist in Indonesia.

He also denied being leader of Jemaah Islamiah - saying it was a make-believe organisation.

Other countries insist that Jemaah Islamiah - and Abu Bakar Ba'asyir - pose a real threat to stability and peace in South East Asia.

Mr Ba'asyir said the accusations against him were nothing more than a part of the big war against Islam, and if countries like Singapore wanted to get him arrested they should go ahead and prove his guilt.

For its part, the Indonesian authorities have refused to arrest Mr Ba'asyir, saying there is no evidence tying him to any terrorist activities.

But Jakarta is under pressure to act after the death and destruction in Bali at the weekend - and certainly they seem to be keeping a closer eye on this radical voice of Islam.

The presence of police intelligence officers throughout his interview could suggest the authorities are now trying to be just a little more vigilant.

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