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After Bali bombing, Indonesia pledges terror crackdown

| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Accused of having ignored demands to crack down on terrorism, Indonesia pledged Wednesday to press ahead with tough new security laws and formed an international investigative team to hunt for the culprits in the Bali nightclub bombing.

Police in Bali said they had detained two Indonesian men for further questioning after an initial round of interrogation. They are a security guard and the brother of a man whose ID card was found at the blast scene.

U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce said a man who allegedly tried to hurl a small bomb at the office of the honorary U.S. consul in Bali's capital of Denpasar on Saturday had been injured when the device exploded prematurely. He said the man was assumed to be under arrest, but police spokesmen denied anyone was detained after that explosion.

Boyce disclosed that in the month before the Bali attack, he and other American envoys had discussed with Indonesian officials possible attacks against U.S. targets.

But he said the warnings were not specific to Indonesia. They coincided with a temporary closure of embassies in Jakarta and other regional capitals due to terrorist threats during the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Even as the government in Jakarta vowed to fight terrorism more aggressively, the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah denied the group existed in Indonesia or anywhere else, or that al-Qaida was tied to the attack which killed at least 183 people, most of them foreign tourists, and injured hundreds more.

"There is no link between al-Qaida and the bomb blast," Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir told reporters, calling the accusations "the invention of infidels."

The Indonesian government is struggling to shake off its image of having ignored months of warnings about terrorists being active here, particularly Jemaah Islamiyah, which wants to establish a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said Wednesday that the government was working on enacting tougher anti-terrorism legislation — stalled in Parliament for months — by presidential decree.

But President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is perceived as indecisive and aloof, has made no attempt to marshal opinion against terrorism and has barely been seen in public since making a brief, tearful trip to the bomb site Sunday.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, in Jakarta to meet with officials, said authorities still "don't have any hard evidence as to who is responsible" for the explosion.

Australia offered a reward of just over $1 million for information leading to the bombers who killed scores of its citizens. It also sent 45 investigators to join police from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Indonesia to sift through the carnage.

National Police spokesman Gen. Saleh Saaf said police believe they have found the residue of chemicals used in the bomb's detonator. The traces, which included evidence of TNT, were found spattered onto a parked motorcycle.

Also found were traces of C-4, a plastic military explosive used in the attack two years ago on the USS Cole in Yemen.

Meanwhile, senior Indonesian intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a former air force lieutenant colonel with a background in explosives was questioned by intelligence officers after the bombing, but they denied reports that he had confessed to building the bomb and said he is not a suspect.

Jemaah Islamiyah has been accused of plotting to attack the U.S. and other Western embassies in Singapore earlier this year. Malaysia and Singapore have arrested scores of suspected members.

On Wednesday, police in Malaysia arrested five more. They are not believed to have any involvement in the Bali attack, Malaysian national police chief Norian Mai said.

Foreign countries have repeatedly urged Indonesia to arrest Bashir, who runs an Islamic boarding school in Indonesia. He denies any involvement and the government has not moved against him, apparently fearing an extremist backlash.

Indonesia's security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, claimed that Jemaah Islamiyah — an al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group identified by Australia and others as a likely culprit — does not even exist in Indonesia.

In Bali, survivors and relatives of the dead or missing grew increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of identifying their loved ones. Many were burned beyond recognition and only 39 positive identifications have been made.

Australian officials said most will have to be identified through dental records, fingerprints or DNA samples — a time-consuming process considering many of the records are coming from overseas.

"There is a lot of frustration because things are going not as well as people expect," said Gordon Ross, helping search for seven members and supporters of his Hong Kong Rugby Club.

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