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Evidence accrues in Bali blast

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The government has, however, taken a small risk in the Saturday arrest of Abu Bakar Bashir, a 64-year old cleric. The State Department named Mr. Bashir as the leader of JI when it placed the group on its list of international terrorist organizations earlier this month. Bashir, who has complained of health problems since the police said they were considering arresting him, is currently being held at a police hospital in Jakarta.

He denies any ties to terrorism and claims that the US, a country he deems an "enemy of Islam," has pressured Indonesia to arrest him because of his religious beliefs.

National police say the cleric has not been arrested in connection with the Bali bombings – instead, he's been charged with involvement in the bombing of almost a dozen churches on Christmas Eve 2000. But the two events are far from unconnected.

In a court filing yesterday laying out the charges against Bashir, the police cited a string of evidence against him, all of which is at least a year old. But only now has the government chosen to move against him, leaving a clear impression in the Indonesian public mind that he's being punished for the explosion on Bali.

Still, analysts say he's unlikely to be able to shed any light on what happened in Bali, and warn that the Indonesian government is risking burning political capital on a red herring. They say Bashir's knowledge of operations has been limited since the start of 2001, when he began to emerge as a senior leader in the movement to bring Islamic law to Indonesia as the chairman of the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI), a high profile umbrella group for Indonesian militants.

"They're not going to get any information leading them to the Bali culprits from Bashir," says Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert who has written a book on Al Qaeda.

According to regional intelligence officials citing interrogations of alleged JI members, Bashir's rising public profile worried the group's principal operations man, Riduan Isammudin – better known as Hambali. To protect the organization, Bashir was apparently cut out of the loop.

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