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With World in Chaos, bin Laden Establishes Base in Indonesia

By Richard C. Paddock
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- JAKARTA, Indonesia

Osama bin Laden, suspected of masterminding Tuesday’s attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, has begun operating in Indonesia where social chaos and rising Islamic fundamentalism provide a rich recruiting ground, authorities said.

Bin Laden, sought by the United States for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing of two embassies in Africa, is believed to be planning a terrorist attack in Indonesia, officials said.

Intelligence officials also believe the bin Laden organization might seek to use the vast, unruly Indonesian archipelago as a staging area for attacks in other countries.

“We have known for quite some time that the bin Laden group has established itself in Indonesia,” said a senior Western diplomat said this week. “I think they see real opportunities in the world’s biggest Muslim country and one in which there are no effective controls.”

Islamic fundamentalism has found many new supporters in Indonesia since 1998, when the downfall of Suharto ended more than three decades of military dictatorship. Lt. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, deputy chief of the Indonesian army, warned recently that international terrorist activity is likely to escalate in Indonesia, a sprawling country of 17,000 islands.

During the 1990s, bin Laden is believed to have funneled money to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the southern Philippines and trained some Indonesians there along with Filipinos. Over the past year, fighters from Afghanistan with alleged links to bin Laden have traveled to Indonesia’s Maluku islands to join forces with Laskar Jihad, an extremist Indonesian Islamic group that is seeking to drive Christians from the region.

Nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s population is Muslim and many officials find it difficult to take firm action against Islamic extremists, including Laskar Jihad, which has sent more than 4,000 fighters to the Malukus and operates there virtually unchecked.