By Candra Malik

Solo. Hard-line Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir on Wednesday blamed the US Central Intelligence Agency for Friday’s bomb attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

“It’s the CIA, just like in the Bali bombings. The CIA directed the Mujahideen who wanted to take ‘jihad’ action,” said Bashir, who now leads the Jemaah Ashorut Tauhid, an umbrella group for Islamic groups advocating Shariah law.

Bashir left the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI) he had founded and chaired for years after disagreements with other leaders of the group and founded the Anshorut Tauhid in September, 2008.

In his first public comments following Friday’s blasts at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, Bashir said the CIA aimed to arouse hate against Islam, to get Islamic preachers arrested and Islamic study groups disbanded.

However, Bashir clarified, “I am not a bomb expert. I know nothing about it.”

The elderly cleric also reiterated that the Jemaah Islamiyah — a group that authorities said he had led and was an Al Qaeda-linked regional terror network responsible for bomb attacks in the past few years — did not exist.

“It’s wrong to say that Jemaah Islamiyah has been fragmented into two groups, the first being the original group and the second being the Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid. As far as I know, Jemaah Islamiyah is just an Islamic study group in Egypt,” he said.

Just like in the Bali bombings in 2002, Bashir was convinced that jihad networks in the country did not have the capability to make sophisticated bombs.

“Up till now, my opinion is that whoever believes that Mukhlas was the one who designed the Bali bomb is truly an idiot. The Bali bomb was a CIA design,” he said, referring to one of the three men convicted of masterminding the Bali bomb attacks and executed by firing squad.

He said the same thing applied to Friday’s attacks. “I think it’s not that easy to go in an out from the hotel carrying a bomb, even if it was brought in piece by piece. So, I have my own reason in saying that it must be the CIA’s plan to discredit Islam,” he said.

“The CIA, the US and Australia will not win. They actually fear us. Let’s see. Al Qaeda is just a small group but it terrifies them.”

However, Bashir also said that he did not condone the bombings. Citing the Koran, he said a war must be preceded by a formal declaration. “If they just exploded a bomb without any declaration of war, then it is not in accordance with ‘shariah’ or Islamic rule. That’s my opinion  . . . so they [the Mujahideen] could be wrong in their action,” he said.

He added that even in a war, civilians, especially women and children, must not be killed. “Even if they are kafir, they cannot be murdered. If they get involved, even in thought, they must be killed,” he said.

He added that the Al-Mukmin Islamic Boarding School that he cofounded in Ngruki, Central Java, was not a source of terrorists.

Two of the key Bali bombers were alumni of the school, as was the suicide bomber in the 2003 Marriot bomb attack.

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