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Indonesia Wants Guantanamo Detainee to Stay in a US Prison

Forty-one detainees remain at the US-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba [John Moore/Getty Images]

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian security officials say the goverment would find a way to ensure an alleged Southeast Asian terror chief doesn’t return to Indonesia under President Barack Obama’s contentious plan to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said Tuesday that officials are “discussing all necessary steps” to ensure Hambali, also known as Riduan Isamuddin, stays in a U.S. prison. Obama’s plan, which involves transferring about two thirds of the current 91 detainees to U.S. soil and sending the others to foreign countries, was rejected by Congress last month. Republicans have said they are preparing a legal challenge in the event Obama presses ahead with the plan.

Hambali has been accused of heading the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah militant group blamed for a string of bombings in Indonesia including a 2002 attack on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. He allegedly also had ties to two of the hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S., but has denied any role.

Hambali’s detention in the U.S. was a past source of tension between the U.S. and Indonesia, which wanted him tried at home. Indonesia has convicted and imprisoned hundreds of militants in a widely praised crackdown since 2001.

But a security official said that the current government under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo prefers that Hambali remains in a U.S. detention facility. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials are still working on the issue, said Hambali was using a Spanish passport when he was arrested in Thailand in 2003. “It will be one of the government’s considerations in rejecting him,” the official said.

Muhammad Taufiqurrohman, an analyst from the Center for Radicalism and De-radicalization Studies who works closely with Indonesian anti-terrorism officials, said there are concerns militant groups could get a boost if Hambali was returned to Indonesia. Indonesian prisons have not succeeded in preventing imprisoned militants from radicalizing other inmates or maintaining links to outside militant networks.

“Hambali could be a radical ideologist for other inmates in the hands of the Indonesian jail officers who have been fairly soft and corrupt in dealing with militants,” Taufiqqurrohmand said. “He could also become an icon for Indonesian extremists.”

 8 March 2016

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