Abubakar Baasyir, an Islamic cleric arrested last year for involvement in terrorism, gave his blessing to a "jihad operation" that resulted in the Oct. 12 Bali bombings that killed almost 200 people, Indonesian police said today.

The statement is the first by police linking Baasyir, spiritual leader of the Southeast Asian Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiah, to the deadliest act of international terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.

Baasyir has been in police custody since October for his alleged role in a series of church bombings in 2000 and a plot to kill President Megawati Sukarnoputri. He has denied involvement in terrorist activities, including the Bali attacks.

According to the national police chief, Dai Bachtiar, the elderly preacher approved a plan developed by top militants at a meeting in Bangkok last February to strike U.S. and other Western targets in Indonesia and Singapore. That plan culminated in the attacks on the Sari Club and Paddy's, both nightclubs in Bali, and the nearby U.S. Consulate, Bachtiar said in written testimony submitted today to a parliamentary commission.

"It was revealed that the jihad operation received the blessing of the Jemaah Islamiah emir, Abubakar Baasyir," Bachtiar said.

Although police said they did not believe Baasyir attended the Bangkok meeting, Bachtiar's report could provide the link investigators have been seeking to connect the cleric to the Bali bombings.

Investigators said Baasyir's blessing applied specifically to those blasts and came after militants planning the operation sought his approval. Police would not say whether they intend to add charges for the Bali blasts to those Baasyir faces in connection with the church bombings and the assassination plot.

Bachtiar also said that $35,000 to finance the attacks came from Hambali, one of the group's leaders and Southeast Asia's most-wanted terrorism suspect. Hambali, an Indonesian also known as Riduan Isamuddin, gave the money to a Malaysian operative named Wan Min Wan Mat, who in turn forwarded the funds to an Indonesian operative named Mukhlas, according to the police chief. The Malaysian is in custody in Malaysia; Mukhlas is being held in Indonesia.

Bachtiar's report is based on confessions from several suspects arrested since the bombing, including Mukhlas and his younger brother, Ali Imron, police officials said.

But other Indonesian security officials said they doubted that Hambali supplied the money for the operation. They said they suspected the financial conduit was a German man named Seyam Reda, who is being held on immigration charges.

Three months after the explosions, police have detained 29 suspects, Bachtiar said, and are preparing to bring the first defendants to court next month.

Indonesia's police chief said Muslim cleric Abubakar Baasyir approved a plan for a "jihad operation" that led to almost 200 deaths in Bali.