New Indonesian Government Tackles Question of Islamic Fundamentalism

Jakarta, Indonesia, NOV. 7, 2004 ( Indonesian Catholics are keeping a close watch on the trial of extremist leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir to see how the new democracy relates to Muslim fundamentalists groups in that country.

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“This is an important test for the new government and the new system of democracy,” a local Catholic told Fides news service.

Ba’asyir is charged with being the leader of a network of militants of Jemaah Islamiah, said to be connected with Al Qaeda. The group is suspected of planning and carrying out the 2002 terrorist attack in Bali that left more than 200 dead, and the 2003 Marriot Hotel attack in Jakarta that left 12 dead.

If found guilty, Ba’asyir could be condemned to the death penalty.

International observers say the trial is a test for the newly elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s promise to fight Islamic extremism. If the punishment inflicted on Ba’asyir who has many supporters, is too harsh it could trigger tension and acts of violence.

Over the past few days thousands of Ba’asyir’s supporters chanting cries of ‘Allah is great’, challenged riot police forces in front of the law courts in Jakarta.

Ba’asyir’s supporters say he is the victim of an American plot. Two Islamic Parties which support the new president Yudhoyono have expressed solidarity with Ba’asyir.

“The government will have to find a balance between fighting Islamic fundamentalism without triggering social unrest. Ba’asyir’s trial and its outcome will have an important impact on the country”, the source told Fides.

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