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New mail bomb triggers panic in Indonesian capital

By NINIEK KARMINI
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 8:15 AM

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A popular singer. A former anti-terror chief. An outspoken critic of Islamic extremism.

All have been targeted by parcel bombs sent by suspected Muslim extremists, leaving many in the Indonesian capital asking, "Who's next?"

Indonesia, a secular country of 237 million people, most of them Muslims, has a long history of religious tolerance. But a hard-line fringe has grown louder, and more violent, in recent years.

Critics say the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - which relies on the support of Islamic parties in Parliament - is partly to blame.

By remaining largely silent, even when mobs attacked Christians and members of Ahmadiyah, a minority Muslim sect, with knives, sticks and rocks, extremists have become emboldened.

"Had the government pushed back from the beginning, it probably wouldn't have gotten to this stage," said Yenny Wahid, executive director of the Wahid Institute, which promotes a moderate and tolerant view of Islam.

But now, a small, intolerant group has seized the moral authority to decide who is a real Muslim and who isn't, she said, "and we, the nation, are paying a big price for that."

Four mail bombs have been sent this week, one exploding and injuring four as it was being detonated by police.

All arrived in hollowed-out, thick books that said "Militant Jew" or "They should be killed for their sins against Islam and the Muslims."

The first packet was addressed to Ulil Abshar Abdalla, an outspoken critic of extremism and founder of the U.S.-funded Islamic Liberal Network.

Others were sent to Lt. Gen. Gories Mere, former chief of the police anti-terror squad, and to Yapto Suryosumarno, a politician suspected of having ties to Jakarta's underworld.

The latest package was delivered to the home of Ahmad Dhani, a well-known singer who has butted heads with Islamic extremists, most recently over topless pictures of an actress.

With rumors swirling that many other parcels have been posted, talk about the bombings lit up social network sites like Facebook and Twitter on Thursday.

"Celebrities. Politicians. Who's next?" some wrote.

For others, the biggest concern was that pop star Justin Bieber and soccer sensation Giovanni van Bronckhorst might cancel planned trips to the capital.

It's not clear who's behind the string of mail bombings.

The country's anti-terrorism chief, Ansyaad Mbai, said that Islamic militants involved in past attacks were likely to blame.

Though they have shifted tactics, delivering low-intensity explosives to specific targets, "I am confident they are old players," he said.

Indonesia has been hit by a string of suicide bombings blamed on the al-Qaida-linked group Jemaah Islamiyah and other militants in the last decade, including the 2002 attacks on Bali island.

Altogether more than 260 people have died, most of them foreign tourists.

But a new terrorist cell that wants to turn the country into an Islamic state says moderate Muslims like Yudhoyono, who oversaw a security crackdown that netted hundreds of terrorist suspects, are their biggest enemies.

They accuse him and others of being infidels and lackeys of the West.

Yudhoyono begged whoever was involved in the mail bombings to stop.

"If don't like me, fine," he said, calling Thursday on the authorities to find and punish the perpetrators. "But please don't sacrifice the people."

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Associated Press writers Robin McDowell and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.

© 2011 The Associated Press