British-educated militant 'was behind Bali blasts'

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Ali Imron, who is serving a life sentence at a prison in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, told a local newspaper that last weekend's explosions bore the hallmarks of Azahari bin Husin, a Malaysian bomb-maker and senior figure in Jemaah Islamiyah, the regional extremist group linked to al-Qa'ida.

The bombs, made of TNT and packed with ball bearings, destroyed two open-air seafood cafés on Jimbaran Beach and a restaurant in central Kuta, the island's main tourist area.

The death toll remains unclear, since many bodies were dismembered. Bali's principal hospital, Sanglah, is listing 29 dead, but police say the figure is 22, including the three bombers and several foreigners.

More than 100 people were wounded, including 23 who were airlifted to the Royal Darwin Hospital in Australia. Doctors described their injuries as "consistent with war", and said enough shrapnel had been removed from their bodies to fill three large shopping bags.

Indonesian police have questioned 39 people, including two men regarded as possible suspects, but they have not yet detained or arrested anyone. " So far they are just witnesses," said Soenarko Artanto, a senior spokesman.

Mr Soenarko said Azahari, who received a doctorate from Reading University after studying in Australia, and another Malaysian fugitive, Noordin Mohamed Top, were prime suspects in the inquiry. "After the recent incidents our hunt for them has been stepped up," he said.

Ali Imron, whose two older brothers, Amrozi and Mukhlas, are on death row, told the Indo Pos that the perpetrators were "those same people" as last time. Asked whom he meant, he replied: "Who else if not the group of Dr Azahari?"

He said the modus operandi was characteristic of the Malaysian, as were the nine-volt batteries found at the sites. "The use of nine-volt batteries is a trademark of Azahari," he said. "It could be Azahari's new recruits. All this time Azahari has never stopped recruiting new people to execute bombings, so those three who died could be his men."

The batteries were among bomb fragments recovered by police. They have also found pellets, cables and detonators, as well as scraps of clothing, a sandal and a wallet believed to belong to the bombers. Investigators say the bombs may have been triggered by mobile phones.

Imron said Azahari might have travelled to Bali to supervise the operation. "So far, Azahari always observes," he said. He did not recognise photographs of the three bombers, whose severed heads were found at the scene of the blasts. "It seems they could be people freshly recruited."

In an unexpected intervention, Abu Bakr Bashir, the elderly Indonesian cleric imprisoned for his role in the 2002 attacks, condemned the bombings but added that they were a sign of God's displeasure with the Indonesian government. "I very much disagree with any bombings, regardless of the reasons, in non-conflict areas, which are aimed at sacrificing the innocent," said Bashir.

The organisation, experts say, has been hit by a series of arrests in recent years, but may have formed alliances with other organisations or individuals.

The Indonesian government shrugged off international calls to outlaw Jemaah Islamiyah ­ doing so could trigger opposition from Muslim groups and political parties ­ saying the group's elusive nature would make it difficult to ban.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited some of the wounded yesterday, telling one: "We will chase those perpetrators and bring them to court. Please be patient."