Indonesia has rejected a US news report that dozens of Al-Qaeda terrorists have taken refuge in the world's most populous Muslim nation. Instead, authorities say suspected terrorist Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, has fled to Pakistan, so there is no need for the US to send forces to Indonesia to help fight terrorism. .
Singapore's The Straits Times reported Friday (22/3/02) that Indonesia has sent a five-member intelligence team to Pakistan to search for Hambali, a 36-year-old Muslim cleric suspected of masterminding several bombings in Indonesia over the past year and plotting attacks in Southeast Asia on US and allied targets. .
The Times quoted an unnamed Indonesian general as saying it was likely that Hambali, a veteran of the Soviet-Afghan war, had been offered refuge by an extremist group in Pakistan. .
He said the Indonesian investigators would work with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in their search for the suspected terrorist. .
US sources recently told Laksamana.net there were indications that Hambali was in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. .
Indonesia has long said there was no sign of him in the archipelago, although it was unclear when or how he had actually fled the country. .
National Police spokesman Saleh Saaf on Friday told Reuters that Malaysian authorities had first alerted Indonesia that Hambali had gone to Pakistan. .
Hambali's financial associate from the militant Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group, Abdul Agis, is also still at large and efforts to find him in Southeast Asia have proved fruitless. .
The two are suspected by some quarters of masterminding a wave of attacks on or near churches in Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000, although some analysts have claimed that rogue military officers may have played a hand in the largely amateur explosions. .
Authorities in Singapore and Malaysia have linked Hambali to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network, describing him as a key point man.