Anti-terror police arrested 10 suspected Muslim militants
JaKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- Anti-terror police arrested 10 suspected Muslim militants and seized a large cache of high-powered bombs, foiling a major attack targeting Westerners in the Indonesian capital, police and media reports said Thursday.
A terror suspect is led into a police detention facility Thursday in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Among those detained was a Singaporean who met several times with Osama bin Laden, a senior police officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The arrests highlighted the lingering terror threat in Indonesia, which has been hit by a string of suicide bombings blamed on the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah since September 11, 2001. They include the 2002 attacks on Bali island that left 202 people dead, many of them foreign tourists.
The government has won praise for arresting and convicting hundreds of Islamic militants since then, leaving the network severely weakened and isolated, with the most recent strike occurring more than 2 1/2 years ago.
Citing improvements in security, the United States lifted a travel warning early this year that had been in place since 2000, and there were no immediate plans to reverse that decision.
"The Indonesian government's response to the threat has improved," said Tristram Perry, the public diplomacy officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. "If anything, these busts validate the lifting of the ban."
Some of the suspects told police during interrogations that they had initially planned to attack foreign tourists on Sumatra Island but shifted their target to Jakarta after realizing too many Indonesian lives could have been lost, TVOne quoted anti-terror police as saying.
There were no immediate details about the timing or the exact location of the planned strike.
At least 22 bombs were seized during raids Wednesday in Palembang, a coastal city on Sumatra, some packed with bullets to maximize the impact of the blast, said a police general, speaking on condition of anonymity. He was not authorized to talk to the press.
Many were ready to explode, Kompas newspaper reported Thursday, adding that dozens of pounds (kilograms) of explosive powder, grenades and several types of electric detonators also were recovered.
The arrests began Saturday in the Sumatran village of Sekayu when police captured a Singaporean terror suspect, Abu Hazam, who allegedly met with bin Laden on several occasions and received training in Afghanistan, TVOne and Kompas reported.
The reports said the man, also known as Omar, tipped police off to the whereabouts of two other suspects, Abdul Rahman and an unidentified alleged bomb-maker, who were arrested Monday. Six others were netted Wednesday and a seventh before dawn Thursday.
All but one of the men were flown to the capital, their faces covered by black masks, as they disembarked from the police aircraft. If found guilty of violating anti-terrorism laws, they face a maximum penalty of death.
Lawyers have agreed to represent the alleged militants and will be present when police begin formal questioning, according to a group of attorneys that specializes in defending terror suspects.
If sufficient evidence is not found after seven days, they must be released.
The suspects allegedly had ties with Southeast Asia's most wanted man, Noordin Top, a Malaysian fugitive who is believed to head the violent breakaway faction of Jemaah Islamiyah that is committed to al Qaeda-style attacks on Western, civilian targets.
He is believed to have been behind all four major attacks in the predominantly Islamic nation since 2002. Together the blasts have killed more than 240 people, including many Muslims, something that has caused divisions in the splinter group.
Police spokesman Abubakar Nataprawira confirmed the arrests and the recovery of explosives, but would not elaborate, saying the investigation was ongoing