Jakarta gets wrong man for Bali blasts

Red faces among police top brass as they admit that man who looked like suspect sketch’ had nothing to do with the attack.

In an embarrassing gaffe, Indonesian police have released a man they arrested after saying he resembled one of the sketches of three suspects in the Bali bombing.

It left a few red faces in the top police brass, who sought to downplay the incident as they faced the stark reality of making little progress in the investigation, three weeks after the devastating attack.

Inspector General Made Mangku Pastika, the head of investigation, said that police arrested the 33-year old in the town of Bajawa in Flores, after receiving a tip-off from residents.

He was flown to Denpasar, Bali’s capital, for questioning. But it bore little result. Reports here quoted the three-star police general as saying: ‘He was released because it turned out that he had nothing to do with the Bali case.

‘He appeared to be someone suffering from intense stress and no coherent answers could be obtained from him. The only thing was that he looked like one of the three suspects.’

The Indonesian police, notorious for botching cases in the past, came under attack from some legislators. They said the investigation could be a ‘litmus test’ of the professionalism of the police force.

A senior legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, who declined to be named, said: ‘This only gives the military more ammunition to tell everyone that the police are not capable enough to carry out complex investigations.’

But others appeared to take a more moderate line. Former attorney-general and Golkar member Marzuki Darusman told The Straits Times: ‘It does show that police here make mistakes. But in combating terrorism, mistakes are bound to happen.

‘And to their credit, the police realised they made a mistake fast enough and are getting on with the investigations.’

In general though, public sentiment towards the security authorities has been veering towards scepticism, despite a concerted media campaign. Inter-agency rivalry only complicates matters.

Besides Bali, another key test for the police is to investigate the role of militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir in a spate of bombings in Indonesia in 2000 and for an alleged plan to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

After storming his hospital in Solo last week and taking him to Jakarta, there appears to be little headway in investigations.

Bashir has refused to answer questions about criminal and terrorist allegations.

Instead, he has imposed several demands on the police. These included his freedom, police apologising to Muslims in the country and bringing self-confessed Al-Qaeda operative Omar Al-Farouq to an Indonesian court.

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