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Face of Bali bomber revealed

From correspondents in Jakarta
October 30, 2002 (http://www.news.com.au/)

INVESTIGATORS have produced an image of the prime suspect in the Bali nightclub bombing that killed nearly 200 people - most of them foreign tourists - a top police general has said.

Eighty-nine Australians are dead or missing following the October 12 terrorist attack at Kuta Beach.

General I Made Mangku Pastika said today that detectives had pieced together a composite sketch of the unnamed suspect on the basis of witness testimonies.

"He is the one who assembled and placed the bomb," said Pastika, who heads the Indonesian investigation.

He offered no other details except to say the suspect was an Indonesian and was being sought by police.

Pastika's statement is the first indication that the probe into the bombings is moving forward. Until now, investigators have always stressed they had no suspects in the case.

Meanwhile, police said it could be days before they can question Abu Bakar Bashir, an ailing Muslim cleric who is suspected of being the spiritual leader of a regional terrorist network blamed for the attack.

Doctors have said Bashir, who is in a police hospital in Jakarta, needs up to four more days' rest.

Detectives plan to interrogate Bashir about allegations that he is the spiritual leader of the extremist group, Jemaah Islamiah, which is believed responsible for the attack in Bali.

It was added last week to a UN list of groups linked to the al-Qaeda network.

Bashir is not officially a suspect in the Bali bombing, but has been charged with ordering a string of church bombings in 2000 that killed 19 people and plotting the assassination of President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Megawati has visited the site of the Bali bombings for a second time and spoken to police over the on-going investigation.

Investigators have previously suggested they would release three composite sketches of possible suspects later this week.

Security forces have also said they are searching for Jemaah Islamiah's fugitive commander Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali, who is believed to be hiding in another country, possibly the Philippines.

Bashir's have lawyers acknowledged their client knew Hambali during his exile in Malaysia from 1985 to 1999. They said Bashir believed Hambali was a businessman who sold Islamic prayer rugs.

"Bashir told us he hasn't had any contact with Hambali since returning to Indonesia in 1999," said Mohamad Mahendradatta, one of the cleric's lawyers.

"He doesn't know anything about Hambali's connection to terrorism."

Police doctors who examined Bashir at hospital in East Jakarta have said the 64-year old cleric's heart condition made it impossible for him to be questioned immediately.

"Based on his condition, doctors concluded that he needs two to four days of treatment and rest," police Brigadier General Basir Ahmad Barmawi said.

"Whether he would be transferred to the police headquarters or not depends on the state of his health."