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Indonesian police arrest leader of network with al-Qaeda ties

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JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian police have arrested the leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network linked to al-Qaeda, authorities said on Tuesday, on suspicion of recruiting members and sending them to Syria to train with extremist groups.

Counter-terrorism police also arrested at least four other suspects linked to Para Wijayanto, who experts say was a student of Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.

Wijayanto, who had been on the run since 2003 and had trained with militants in the southern Philippines, was arrested with his wife on Saturday on the outskirts of Jakarta, the capital.

Police said Wijayanto owned palm oil plantations on Sumatra and Borneo islands, which he used to pay some JI members up to 15 million rupiah (£841) a month.

“That money was also used to recruit and send people to Syria,” national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told Reuters.

Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism squad, Densus 88, was created in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings to quash JI and similar groups in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Security forces were seen as being successful in breaking up militant networks after key figures like Bashir were rounded up and jailed.

Bashir, who is considered the spiritual leader of JI, denied involvement in the Bali bombings. He was convicted in 2010 under anti-terrorism laws for links to militant training camps in Aceh province and jailed for 15 years.

Concerns have risen in recent years about a resurgence in homegrown militancy and terrorism financing.

“There are still many JI members, and after the fall of Osama bin Laden, they became sleeper cells,” said Stanislaus Riyanta, a terrorism analyst based in Jakarta.

“The fall of Islamic State may have left a gap for JI to rise again,” he added.

Indonesia scrambled to tighten its anti-terrorism laws after a series of suicide bombings killed more than 30 people in the East Java city of Surabaya last year.

Hundreds of people have been detained under the new laws since the beginning of 2019.

(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

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