ABU Bakar Bashir has endorsed the deadly work of Southeast Asia's most wanted terrorist, Noordin Top, saying Allah would protect him in his fight for Islam.
The fanatical Muslim cleric, who is the spiritual adviser to the al-Mukmin Islamic school for children on the outskirts of Solo, in central Java, said if the victims of the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton suicide bombings had ever held any thoughts against Islam, they deserved to die.
Bashir refused to condemn the suicide bombings, saying the use of terror was justified in the war against infidels, or non-Muslims.
Bashir was convicted and jailed for inciting terrorism in relation to the 2002 Bali bombings and has not since moderated his views.
He is seen as the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiah, and while he is deeply unpopular in Indonesia, he carries dangerous influence that marks him as more than a mere ranting eccentric. The 1000 boys and 1000 girls who board at the al-Mukmin school he co-founded are taught predominantly in Arabic, and are indoctrinated to his views from kindergarten through to their leaving certificate.
Bashir regularly travels across Java to other pesantrens, or Islamic schools, to speak, although on Tuesday, in the east Java town of Malang, Indonesian police reportedly banned him from giving a public lecture.
Yesterday, Bashir attacked the Australian, US and Indonesian governments. "The main cause of this disaster (the bombings) is the Indonesian government, which undermines the supremacy of Islamic law.
"This (terror) will not end until the government follows the right path."
Asked by The Australian whether he felt any sadness for the seven victims of the suicide bombings, Bashir said: "What makes me sad about the bombings was that it involved innocent people being killed.
"People such as women and children who are not involved in the fight against Muslims should not be killed.
"But the problem is we don't know for sure that the victims weren't involved in the fight against Islam. Even the thought of fighting against Islam is involvement. Everyone that thinks like that is allowed to be killed."
Fifteen of his former students are said to have been directly involved in acts of terror across the region.
Asked if he was embarrassed by this, Bashir said: "There are no Muslim terrorists. The terrorists are the CIA, the Americans and the Australians. They're the ones who terrorise Muslims.
"The Australians are making a fuss about their victims, but when it comes to Muslim victims they don't say anything about it."
One of those former students is Nur Said, who many thought was one of the hotel suicide bombers. While DNA tests from the bombers' bodies at both sites have ruled him out, there remains a view that he may have been Noordin Top's second-in-command in the operation.
In the little hillside village of Katekan, northwest of Jogjakarta, famed for its tobacco, a media crew said it had been staking out Nur Said's parents' home for days but they had gone into hiding.
Bashir said he had never met Nur Said.
Speaking within the grounds of the al-Mukmin school, where students studied a noticeboard with newspaper accounts of the attacks, Bashir was asked whether Noordin Top, who used the school as his main recruitment ground, should be apprehended.
"If Noordin M.Top has bad intentions, then he should be apprehended," said Bashir. "If he is right, then Allah will protect him. What I know about Noordin M.Top is that he is a Malaysian who fights to defend Islam."
Bashir claimed it was not Muslim terrorists who conducted the suicide bombings. "The person who bombed the Marriott is probably influenced by the CIA, which is an enemy of Islam. It will do anything to discredit and destroy Islam in Indonesia.
"In my opinion, acts of bombing are only allowed after one declares war against infidels. Such as al-Qa'ida, which has declared war on America. Go ahead (and bomb).
"I'm not saying the (Marriott and Ritz) bombers are wrong, they could have been right." But he would prefer if there was a formal declaration of jihad before targets were attacked.
Students and teachers call Bashir "Pak Ustad", meaning senior teacher. One teacher, Syehuddin, said he had no problem with the school's record of producing terrorists.
"Even though terrorists radiated from here, they also come from other places. Foreign intervention leads to all the attention on this school."
The school previously ran to university level but has since dropped off. Syehuddin would not say why this was, but it seems an al-Mukmin degree is no longer regarded as something you'd want on your CV.
Teachers claim they teach the origins of the various interpretations of the Koran and let students decide for themselves.
Bashir, who lives within the school grounds, said: "The connections between al-Mukmin and the Marriott bombing is just an allegation.
"My war is to promote Islam through preaching. God willing, if the (Indonesian) government can return to the Islamic way, we can fight the Americans because those kafirs (non-Muslims) are weak. God willing, the jihadists will prevail."
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