Islamic militants push for Bashir`s freedom on Web

Abu Bakar Bashir is believed to be the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah.

Last Updated: Aug 29, 2010, 13:10 PM IST

Jakarta: Islamic hardliners have launched a full-scale campaign in cyberspace seeking the release of Indonesia`s best-known radical cleric. They are on Facebook, have set up their own websites, and hacked into the homepages of private companies.

Abu Bakar Bashir, believed to be the spiritual leader of the al Qaeda-linked terror network Jemaah Islamiyah, was arrested for the third time on August 09 for allegedly helping set up a new cell that was plotting Mumbai-style attacks targeting foreigners at luxury hotels and Western embassies in the capital.

If found guilty, he could face a maximum penalty of death.

"It`s all a lie!" wrote Facebook user Asy`Hari Siregar, who in the past would have been among hundreds rallying in Jakarta`s streets, now largely quiet as the predominantly Muslim country observes dawn-to-dusk fasts for the holy month of Ramadan.

Others chimed in that he was a victim of a US conspiracy.

Indonesia, a secular nation of 237 million people, has seen an explosion in high-tech grass roots campaigning thanks to the availability of relatively cheap cell phones that can access the Internet.

The number of Facebook users jumped from less than a million two years ago to 22 million today, making it the third largest country for the social networking site.

It also has the highest penetration of Twitter usage.

Robertus Robert, an analyst from Jakarta State University, said it is unlikely Islamic hard-liners will abandon street protests altogether.

"It`s just that they see the web as a way of broadening their campaign," he said. "It`s a bit a paradox, really. Most fundamentalists reject modern technology as a tool of the West, but it allows them to reach new audiences the middle classes and others using the Web."

Within hours of Bashir`s arrest, followers set up "" website, which has drawn more than 65,000 visitors. It contains video of police leading the smiling cleric into the police station, articles alleging US involvement in his arrest, and a message delivered by the cleric from inside his cell.