Indonesian Islamists seek to isolate pro-bin Laden radicals

 
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JAKARTA, Nov 12 (Reuters) Southeast Asia's biggest militant organisation is apparently seeking to rein in its radical wing and invoke Islamic law against the indiscriminate anti-Western attacks demanded by Osama bin Laden.

Analysts say Web sites and other forums affiliated with the Jemaah Islamiah network now feature religious tracts that call into question a 1998 decree from bin Laden that Muslims must hit Western targets worldwide in defence of their faith.

The new trend, they say, follows a split within the movement into mainstream and pro-bombing factions that dates at least from the first Bali resort blast in 2002 and picked up speed through three subsequent suicide attacks.

But opinions are divided about how far-reaching any change may be.

JI's radical wing, led by fugitive Noordin Top, used the so-called bin Laden fatwa to justify the four bombings -- two in Bali and two in Jakarta. It also relied on al Qaeda for some initial financing, but how the relationship developed after that is in dispute.

A total of 253 people were killed in the blasts and hundreds more were hurt.

''It is my view that JI has split and that the evidence for that is mounting,'' Greg Fealy, of the Australian National University, said by telephone from Canberra.

Now, said Fealy, the network's clerics were trying to isolate the bombers by undercutting support for violent attacks.

''The ulama within JI wants to reimpose a classical understanding of Islamic law. The divergence of views on the (bin Laden) fatwa is greater than it was,'' he said.

Zachary Abuza, a U.S. expert on Southeast Asia, is more cautious about any change in the secretive organisation. ''This is what they say in public. But what are they saying in private?'' he said by telephone from Boston.

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