by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
August 14, 2003
AMERICAN AND THAI POLICE ARREST HAMBALI
JAKARTA, Aug. 15, 2003 - American and Thai police arrested Hambali, arguably Southeast Asia's most wanted terrorist and allegedlly the second in command of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network, in Ayutthaya, a small town about 80 kilometers south of Bangkok, earlier this week. He was flown Friday to an undisclosed location, probably Bahgram AFB, an American airbase in Afghanistan where many al-Qaida prisoners are jailed, for quesioning.
The Bangkok-based Nation daily broke the story Friday morning, reporting that Hambali, who is an Indonesian citizen and whose real name is either Encep Nurjaman or Riduan Isamuddin, has been held since early this week in a secret location for questioning by Thai authorities and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials from the U.S..
They discovered that Hambali had traveled from the Chiang Khong border district in Chiang Rai, near the border with Malaysia, to hide among the Muslim community in Ayutthaya. The authorities have also confiscated a number of explosive devices and weapons, which Hambali allegedly confessed were being prepared for use in a terrorist attack during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which brings together prime ministers, presidents, and chief executives from 21 Asia-Pacific economies in Bangkok in October.
In Washington, D.C., the White House announced his arrest after the Nation broke the story. Thai authorities also confirmed that Hambali was flown out of Thailand, raising speculation that he was either transported into Indonesia, where most of his crimes were committed, or Bahgram in Afghanistan. He did not turn up in Indonesia.
President George W. Bush described Hambali as a notorious figure and a killer. "He is no longer a problem to those of us who love freedom," Bush said during a speech Thursday to troops at Marine Corps Air Station in California. "And neither are nearly two-thirds of known senior al-Qaida leaders, operational managers and key facilitators who have been captured or have been killed."
In Jakarta, Indonesia's top security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono welcomed Hambali's arrest, saying that it would reveal other evidences on his involvement in the Jemaah Islamiyah network as well as its terror campaign throughout Southeast Asia.
Police chief Da'i Bachtiar said he would like to help both American and Thai police to question Hambali, adding that Hambali was involved in scores of bombing activities in Indonesia. "We will help their investigation. If possible we could also participate in the questioning," he said.
Hambali is believed to be JI's number two behind Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who is being detained in Indonesia in connection with a number of terrorist attacks. Ba'asyir was detained since October 2002. He denies any links to Jemaah Islamiyah.
That organization, known simply as JI, is the prime suspect in the Bali bombings last October that killed 202 people, and last week's terrorist attack in front of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 and wounded more than 100 victims.
Detikcom reported that Hambali's arrest, which was broadcasted by many television, was also spotted by his family members in Sukabumi. Hambali's brother, Kankan Abdul Kadir, was quoted as saying that their mother Eni Mariyani had known the arrest from televisions. "She was calm as she already knew that Encep was intensively hunted by the police," said Kankan.
He said the last time his big brother returned home was in 1990 with wife Nur Alawiyah. "He never turned up here again. Once he also sent one million rupiah," Kankan said. The amount was around U.S.$500 at the time.
Hambali was born in a village in the Sukabusi area in western Java in 1966, one of 13 children in a middle class family. His father was a school principal.
Hambali became involved in radical Islam as a reaction against the religious repression of the President Suharto regime throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1985, when Hambali was aged 19, he sought exile in Malaysia. Ba'asyir also moved to Malaysia in 1985 and eventually the two men met. They lived in the same compound in Kampung Manggis, Banting, Selangor,
From Malaysia, Hambali travelled to Afghanistan in 1988 to fight as a mujahideen guerrilla against Soviet occupation.
He returned to Malaysia in 1990, where he is believed to have travelled the country recruiting young Muslims to join a jihad (holy war) with the eventual aim of setting up a pan-Asian Islamic state.
Back in Indonesia, Suharto was overthrown in 1998, and Hambali is believed to have returned there in October 2000 to recruit more supporters.
On Christmas Eve that year, a series of bombs exploded almost simultaneously in nine Indonesian cities, many of them in churches. Eighteen people were killed.
Hambali is now wanted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines in connection with a string of regional terrorist attacks over the past few years. The police believed that Hambali is the link between JI and al-Qaida.
In January 2000, Hambali is believed to have had one of his deputies hold meetings at his apartment in Malaysia between two eventual Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, and a high-ranking al-Qaida figure who organized the bombing of the U.S.S Cole.
Thai authorities are believed to have known Hambali was in Thailand in January last year, where he planned the Bali bombings at a meeting in Bangkok. Since then, according to an intelligence source, he had returned to Thailand twice trying to evade police detection.
AR Correspondent Andreas Harsono, whoalso writes for the Thai daily Nation, won a Nieman International Fellowship for his international reporting in 1999. He has been a contributor to The American Reporter since 1995.