'Al-Qaida in Aceh' Says Survived Indonesia Arrests

A group calling itself “al-Qaida in Aceh” claimed Saturday to be the target of a police crackdown in the Indonesian province, where authorities have arrested and charged suspected militants with planning terrorist attacks. In a statement posted on the blog hosting site WordPress.com, the group said it had survived the police crackdown and pledged to continue its jihad against “Zionist Jews and Christians and apostates.” Later Saturday, WordPress blocked access to the blog for violating its terms of service.

It was not possible to authenticate the statement. Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Edward Aritonang said the statement was under investigation, and could yet prove to be a hoax. Police have arrested 16 suspected militants in a series of raids in the deeply conservative province of Aceh since Feb. 22, the latest two on Saturday. Police suspect the group is linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian offshoot of al-Qaida that has been blamed for twin bombings last year on hotels in Jakarta, and 2002 bombings on the island of Bali.

“As of the 10th day of the pursuit against us, we survive to continue jihad although some of our brothers were captured and martyred,” the statement said. “We hereby assure Muslims that we will uphold our pledge to jihad against the Zionist Jews and Christians and apostates until God awards us victory, or we become martyrs in the way of Allah,” it added.

Sidney Jones, Jakarta-based senior adviser for the International Crisis Group think tank, said she had never heard of the group and could not say whether the statement spoke for the militants in Aceh. She said militants in the province appeared to comprise several movements, including Jemaah Islamiyah.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Friday that the group, which he did not name, had set up in Aceh believing that Indonesian security forces had lost interest in the province since a violent separatist movement ended there in 2005. He said members of the separatist movement were not part of the new group.

Police say 14 of the suspects confessed to undergoing paramilitary training, including weapons use and hand-to-hand combat. They say the militants were preparing for a terrorist attack against an undisclosed target.

They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. On Saturday, two more suspected militants were arrested in Aceh but have yet to be charged, Aritonang said. He declined to detail the circumstances of those arrests.