Indonesian police surround Islamic school

Police say the school is linked to Abu Bakar Bashir, who was jailed for 15 years last month.

Jakarta: Indonesian police were locked in a tense standoff with armed students at an Islamic boarding school for a third day on Wednesday, after a bomb blast there killed a suspected terrorist.

Police say the school is linked to radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who was jailed for 15 years last month for funding a terrorist group that was planning attacks against Westerners and political leaders.

Security forces arrived at the school at Bima town, West Nusa Tenggara province, late Monday after a home-made bomb exploded in one of the rooms, killing a man suspected of being a Philippine-trained bomb expert.

Local media have quoted police as saying the unidentified man was suspected of instructing students on how to make bombs when one of the devices exploded.

After the blast, hundreds of students and teachers armed with knives and swords blocked the entrance, preventing police and soldiers from investigating the incident.

"We`ve been trying to enter the school to carry out our investigations by being persuasive, but the students are still blocking us," provincial police spokesman Sukarman Husein said.

"If persuasion doesn`t work we`ll have to enter the school with full force some time later today."

He said about 200 police and troops were deployed around the school but were keeping their distance so as not to aggravate the students, who were armed with traditional swords.

Eight people were in custody in connection to the incident, Husein said.

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said the police had to take strong action if the school was linked to extremist groups.

"If anyone related to the bomb blasts is found to be a member of a radical group, then the boarding school must be closed and the students must be re-guided," the Jakarta Globe newspaper quoted Suryadharma as saying.

He said the school had resisted government attempts to moderate its teachings in the past.

Police are understood to be wary of triggering a violent Islamist backlash if they crackdown too heavily on the school, despite its apparent involvement in bomb-making and religious extremism.

One of the school`s leaders was reportedly arrested last year in connection with the terror group Bashir was convicted of funding.

And a student called Saban Arohmah was arrested last month for killing a police officer with a sword slash to the neck, according to the Kompas news website.

"From his testimony, the student admitted that the premeditated murder was part of a jihad (holy war) mission," Kompas quoted Husein as saying.

The killer reportedly belonged to Bashir`s Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, an extremist group campaigning to bring Indonesia, the world`s most populous Muslim-majority state, under strict Islamic law.

Indonesia is a pluralist democracy and most of its 200 million Muslims are moderates.

But it has struggled to deal with a radical fringe of Islamist jihadis who have carried out numerous bloody attacks including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.

Bureau Report

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