Jakarta, Indonesia A radical Islamic cleric was back in jail Monday after police said they had evidence he not only inspired al-Qaida linked militants with his fiery sermons but helped set up a new terror cell that was plotting attacks on hotels and embassies in Indonesia’s capital.
They said they found a bomb-making laboratory and evidence of at least two powerful test blasts in a nearby mountain range.
Abu Bakar Bashir, who has been arrested twice before and spent several years in jail, was heading home after preaching in the West Java town of Ciamis when the anti-terror unit swooped, breaking the rear window of his van after his bodyguards tried to obstruct them, officials and family members said.
The white-bearded cleric, wearing a skull cap and flowing white gown, was escorted under tight security to police headquarters in Jakarta.
“The United States is behind this!” he shouted before entering the building. Then he smiled and said: “This arrest is a blessing ... I will be rewarded by Allah!”
The 71-year-old is best known as one of the co-founders and spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah, the al-Qaida-linked network responsible for a string of suicide bombings in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, including the 2002 attacks on Bali island that killed 202 people, most of them Western tourists.
Bashir, who has always denied terrorist links, was also one of the founders of al-Mukmin boarding school in the Central Java town of Solo that produced some of the country’s deadliest bombers.
The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are moderate Muslims who reject violence, but there were fears Monday that Bashir’s re-arrest would energize the country’s small but vocal radical fringe.
Supporters of the cleric chanted slogans at a protest against his arrest Monday. The U.S. Embassy warned its citizens to stay clear of demonstrations, which could quickly turn volatile.
Despite previous arrests, police spokesman Maj. Gen. Edward Aritonang said this was the first time evidence has been presented linking Bashir to the execution, preparation or commission of terrorist attacks.
Bashir was accused of providing funds for a new terror cell in westernmost Aceh province and playing “an active role in preparing the initial plans for their military struggle,” he said, without elaborating.