22 Dec. 2006

Outrage over US snub on Bashir case:
THE US Attorney-General rebuffed a request from the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, to grant Indonesian police access to the terrorism mastermind Hambali, who could have been a key witness against the radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.

A day after Bashir was cleared of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings, questions were raised about an alleged lack of co-operation that hampered the prosecution's case against the cleric.

Mr Keelty did get an agreement from Alberto Gonzales for Indonesian police to submit written questions to Hambali through US interrogators. However, the responses were not usable in the Bashir trial because Indonesian police could not be present when answers were given, according to Indonesian security sources.

The US's failure to grant access to Hambali will outrage families of victims of the attacks. The US embassy in Canberra said yesterday it could not respond to the concerns or explain why access to Hambali was denied.

The Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, said Indonesian investigators had "their hands tied" by Washington's rebuff. He called on the Prime Minister to explain what representations had been made about access to Hambali, but a spokesman for John Howard referred questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. The Indonesian Defence Minister had admitted, Mr Downer said, that Hambali would not be able to provide any new information.

Mr Keelty said it was "speculation" as to whether Hambali's evidence would have strengthened the case against Bashir. But he added: "Clearly Hambali was an important player in the Bali bombings."

Contacted by the Herald yesterday, Bashir vowed to intensify his campaign to introduce strict Islamic law throughout Indonesia. Since being released from jail in June he has become a national celebrity, speaking at mass rallies across Indonesia.

"I was jailed because it was engineered by the US and its friends including the incumbent Australian Government," he said yesterday. He was considering seeking compensation.