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Survey finds many Indonesians approve of bin Laden

Reuters - October 15, 2001 (abridged)

Jakarta – Many Indonesians regard Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden as a fighter for justice and support efforts by the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan to shelter him, according to a survey published on Sunday.

In results likely to surprise some, 50 percent of 2,400 respondents to the online survey last week by a leading newspaper, Media Indonesia, said bin Laden was a "justice fighter". Less than 35 percent thought he was a terrorist.

Washington has accused bin Laden of masterminding devastating hijack attacks on the United States last month that killed around 5,500 people and one week ago began air raids on Islamic Afghanistan, infuriating many in the Muslim world.

Anti-American feeling has spilled onto the streets in the world's largest Muslim nation, but has been confined to small, radical groups, whose actions and threats against foreigners have been criticised by the majority moderate Muslim populace.

But the survey clearly underscores the suspicion of US policy among many Indonesians. Of those surveyed, nearly half were university graduates.

The report said 56 percent believed the Taliban was "wise" in sheltering bin Laden after the attacks on the United States while nearly half felt the militant and his protectors needed military assistance from fellow Muslim countries.