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Dozens questioned as Bali bombing hunt widens - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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KUTA BEACH, Indonesia (Reuters) – Police in Indonesia said on Tuesday they had questioned dozens of people in a widening hunt for the masterminds of suicide bombs that killed 22 people on the holiday island of Bali, but had so far made no arrests.

The top targets in the nationwide search were Malaysians Azahari bin Husin and Noordin M. Top, fugitive leaders of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah militant Islamic network.

Police say Azahari and Top helped plan the Bali blasts of 2002, which killed 202 people, as well as subsequent deadly attacks on a luxury hotel and an embassy in Jakarta.

Bali police chief Made Mangku Pastika told reporters that two non-Balinese people had been taken in for questioning two days earlier over suspected involvement in Saturday night”s suicide bombings at beach restaurants, which a hospital official said killed 22 people and wounded 135.

&#34We have some progress,&#34 he said. &#34We hope to find clearer clues but not all has been reported to me.&#34

But deputy national police spokesman Soenarko Artanto made clear there had been no formal arrests. &#34What we have right now are 39 witnesses,&#34 he said.

Under Indonesian law police may hold people for questioning for several days without bringing charges or arresting them.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited some of the wounded on Tuesday morning, telling one: &#34We will chase those perpetrators and bring them to court. Please be patient.&#34

Police spokesman Artanto said Jemaah Islamiah leaders Azahari and Top were prime targets of the hunt. &#34Our original plan from the beginning is chasing these two masterminds. After the recent incidents our hunt for them has been stepped up,&#34 he said.

There were no claims of responsibility for the attacks. There usually are not in Indonesian bombings.

Official and private terrorism experts say the tactics in the blasts, including the use of suicide bombers as in other major attacks, are among the reasons they suspect the Malaysians.

They also point to the coordination of the timing and selection of the attack sites as evidence of extensive advance planning and involvement by Jemaah Islamiah or a similar group.

Chilling video footage released by investigators this week shows a man in a black shirt and jeans strolling into a restaurant, followed almost instantly by an explosion.

The tape, and photos of three severed heads believed to be those of the bombers, are being widely shown by Indonesian media as the country launches a huge manhunt for those involved.

Some 200,000 police officers were on top alert nationwide.

&#34We are trying to undo the networks and hunt the perpetrators and their groups,&#34 national police spokesman Ariyanto Budihardjo said.

A large contingent of Australian police officers arrived in Bali this week to help. Japan also sent a police counter-terrorism unit to the island, Kyodo news agency reported.

At least one national from each country was killed and others were injured in the three separate bombs that tore through restaurants packed with Saturday evening diners.

With Western or tourist-linked sites the main target of the major bombings in the last several years, tourism has been hurt and security fears raised among investors.

However, in Monday and Tuesday trade Indonesian share and currency markets were largely unaffected.

Analysts point to a degree of acceptance that sporadic attacks have become a reality in today”s world, as well as other factors that outweighed the effect of the blasts.

Terrorism experts say preventing determined suicide bombers from pulling off attacks is difficult, especially in a sprawling country of some 17,000 islands and 220 million people.

Jakarta has won praise for scores of arrests and convictions since the first Bali bombings, though critics say some key players got off lightly and note Jemaah Islamiah has never been declared an illegal organization.

Indonesia is the world”s most populous Muslim nation. The vast majority of those following Islam are moderates, but militancy has been a growing force.

Some visitors cut short their stays on Bali, Indonesia”s prime tourism destination, 960 km (600 miles) east of Jakarta.

&#34We are not happy we”re staying here. We are going home tonight,&#34 said Gail Cross, from Australia. &#34I do love Bali. But I have children. And what has happened has frightened us.&#34

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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