Asia Remains Jittery Despite Capture of Top Terrorist

Patrick Goodenough | Pacific Rim Bureau Chief | Monday, August 18, 2003

Asia Remains Jittery Despite Capture of Top Terrorist

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Terrorism fears in Asia remain close to the surface despite the capture last week of Southeast Asia's most dangerous terrorist.

Indonesians on Sunday marked their country's National Day amid its highest level of security, almost two weeks after a suicide bombing in Jakarta killed 12 people and wounded 150.

Police investigating the bombing of the JW Marriott hotel announced the arrest of nine suspects, some of whom police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said were also believed to be linked to previous bombings in Indonesia.

The government also said it hoped to get access soon to the man accused of planning that attack, and numerous others in Indonesia and across the region.

Riduan Isamuddin, better known by the alias Hambali, was captured last week in Thailand. At the weekend, Thailand's prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, confirmed that Hambali had been planning attacks to coincide with the October summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Thaksin also said that clues from "terrorism-related money laundering movements in the country" had led investigators to Hambali, believed to be the operations chief of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network and Osama bin Laden's key ally in Asia.

The Thai leader said accomplices of Hambali - who are now being hunted, according to security sources - had reconnoitered venues for the forthcoming APEC meeting as well as other U.S. interests in the country.

President Bush and 20 other leaders of Pacific Rim nations, including China, Russia and Japan, are due to attend the Oct. 21-22 gathering in Bangkok.

U.S. deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is visiting Australia, told Australian television it would be "foolish" to assume that Hambali's capture meant any terrorist threat to the APEC summit had vanished.

He said the Americans were "trying to get as much information [out of Hambali] as quickly as possible, so we can stop any threats that might be sort of in the planning process."

Although Hambali was "a top planner" of JI attacks, Armitage noted that other members of the network remained unaccounted for.

"I think the better assumption is that these fellows are out to do us ill, and we ought to take every precaution against this," he said.

Among key JI terrorists still at large are Indonesian bomb expert Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who escaped from Philippines police custody last month; another Indonesian named as Zulkarnaen; and two Malaysians, Azahari Husin and Muhammad Top.

Hundreds of other JI operatives are based across the region, according to security officials and terrorism researchers.

Hambali, an Indonesian Muslim cleric who has been on the run since late 2001, was captured by CIA and Thai authorities in the central city of Ayutthaya last Monday.

Regional media reports have speculated that he has followed the route taken by other terrorists captured in Asia, and has been flown either to Bagram military base in Afghanistan, or directly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

His wife, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian, was also arrested. Malaysian officials said she would be questioned in her home country about her husband's activities.

Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Australia would all like to speak to Hambali or be given access to information he provides to interrogators.

All five countries have been directly affected by terrorist attacks and plots linked to Hambali, who is also suspected to have been the main channel for funds provided by bin Laden's al Qaeda.

They are also all concerned about the possibility future attacks have been planned, and hope Hambali's interrogation will provide information that could help to prevent them.

Following the Aug. 5 bombing at the Jakarta Marriott, the U.S., Canada, Australia and Britain all warned their citizens about the dangers of more attacks in Indonesia.

Sunday's National Day celebrations were thought to be one possible target date for attacks, but the day's events passed peacefully, under the watchful eye of more than 200,000 police officers.

Regional and Western governments have also pointed to the ongoing terrorism trial in Indonesia of JI's alleged spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, as well as separate trials of several men accused in last October's bombings in Bali - with 202 victims, the deadliest attack attributed to Hambali and JI.

With terrorism concerns unabated, heavy security measures have been put in place at hotels and other buildings in Jakarta associated with Westerners.

President Bush at the weekend spoke with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri about continuing security cooperation, according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

The two leaders also "talked about the importance of sharing information from the interrogation of Hambali," McClellan said.

Apart from his suspected leading role in JI recruiting and terrorism, Hambali is also thought to be the network's main link with al-Qaeda.

U.S. officials say he helped to arrange a meeting in Kuala Lumpur in early 2000 attended by two of the men who later took part in the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.; that he was connected to a suspect in the Oct. 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen; and that he met with Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 plot, now in prison in the U.S.

See also:
Capture of Asian Terrorist Chief 'Massive Blow' to JI, Al-Qaeda (Aug. 15, 2003)

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