WPost: Al Qaeda's S.E. Asian Reach - NYT: Indonesian Cleric Suspected
By R. Chandrasekaran, R. Bonner
4/2/2002 12:52 pm Mon
[Kami siarkan rencana ini sebagai satu bahan kajian sahaja. Berita-berita
seperti ini memberi peluang kepada Amerika untuk mendapatkan sesuatu yang
amat diidaminya disini.
Al Qaeda's S.E. Asian Reach
Group Operating in 4 Nations Believed Tied to Sept 11 Hijackers
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 3, 2002; Page A01
SINGAPORE -- Asian law enforcement officials investigating an
alleged plot by Muslim extremists to blow up Western embassies
and U.S. naval vessels here have uncovered a sophisticated
underground group affiliated with the al Qaeda terrorist network in
Southeast Asia that aided participants in the Sept. 11 attacks on
New York and the Pentagon.
The group, known as Jemaah Islamiah, or Islamic Group, had cells
in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia and also operated in the
Philippines, officials said. They said the militant group was directed
by a radical Indonesian cleric who served as a conduit between
his eager followers in Asia and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan
and the Middle East.
The cleric, Riduan Isamuddin, who uses the alias Hambali, played
host to two men in Malaysia in January 2000 who later went on to
hijack the American Airlines Flight 77 plane that crashed into the
Pentagon, a Malaysian government official said. Later that year,
the official said, Hambali ordered a member of the Malaysian cell to
provide accommodations and a letter of reference to another visitor
to Malaysia, Zacarias Moussaoui, a man now in U.S. custody,
charged in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.
Hambali, who is on the run, has emerged at the center of a global
investigation into Jemaah Islamiah, an organization whose scope
and complexity appears to have been similar to the operations of
Osama bin Laden's followers in Europe and the United States.
Government officials said the overriding aim of the group, which
was created in Malaysia in the mid-1990s by Hambali and a fellow
Indonesian cleric, Abubakar Baasyir, was to overthrow secular
governments in the region and create an Islamic state linking
Malaysia, Indonesia and the Muslim-dominated southern
Philippines. But along the way, Hambali and Baasyir transformed
the group into "a part of the broader al Qaeda syndicate," an
official in Singapore said.
"Hambali was al Qaeda's point man in Southeast Asia," the
Malaysian official said.
Government officials in the Philippines and Malaysia are
investigating whether the bearded and bespectacled Hambali, 36,
was involved in a 1994 plot to bomb 12 U.S. passenger jets in
Asia. The Malaysian official said Hambali had spent time in the
Philippines with two of the men convicted in the case, Ramzi
Yousef and Wali Khan Amin Shah. The official said Hambali also
assisted a Malaysian trading company partly owned by Shah that
was used to raise funds for the bombings.
Authorities also believe that Jemaah Islamiah was responsible for
unsolved bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines over the past
few years, including a series of explosions in Jakarta and Manila
in December 2000 that killed 35 people.
Asian and Western officials said that details emerging about
Jemaah Islamiah's operations have provided a startling warning
about the development of Islamic militant activities in Southeast
Asia. For years, governments assumed such groups had
exclusively domestic agendas -- the creation of independent
Islamic states or the imposition of Islamic law. While some groups
have enjoyed a popular following in recent years, Jemaah Islamiah
was relatively obscure.
Foreign terrorists, particularly those belonging to al Qaeda, were
regarded as short-term visitors who wanted to take advantage of
lax immigration rules and reduced scrutiny from Western
intelligence agencies. But disclosures about Jemaah Islamiah, the
officials said, reveal the degree to which bin Laden's organization
has burrowed into the region and dispersed local militants around
"What's alarming are the regional links," a senior U.S. official said.
"It's not just one country that they've infiltrated. It's at least four."
Authorities in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have
arrested 37 suspected Jemaah Islamiah members since early
December, but they are still searching for Hambali. Officials in
Singapore and Malaysia said he traveled to Afghanistan in
October, but they believe he has returned to the region and is
hiding in Indonesia.
After the United States began its military campaign in Afghanistan,
authorities in Singapore said Hambali approved plans for another al
Qaeda attack: Members of a Jemaah Islamiah cell here were to
drive trucks packed with powerful fertilizer bombs into the
embassies of the United States, Britain, Israel and Australia. Before
they were arrested in December, cell members had completed a
detailed reconnaissance of the embassies and had acquired four
tons of ammonium nitrate -- twice the amount that Timothy
McVeigh used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in
Oklahoma City in 1995.
"There was an imminent danger," a senior Western diplomat here
said. "Their plans could have been operational in a week."
Officials in Singapore and Malaysia said the arrests have largely
destroyed Jemaah Islamiah, although they acknowledge there may
be several members still at large, particularly in Indonesia. Of
greater concern, they said, is the ammonium nitrate, which is still
The officials said the material, a fertilizer widely used to make
bombs, was delivered to the Malaysian town of Muar, which sits on
the Straits of Malacca, just across from Indonesia. They said the
ammonium nitrate was packed into 80-kilogram (176-pound) bags
and sent to Indonesia's Batam island, just south of Singapore.
"They may have broken up the group, but there's still an enormous
amount of explosive out there somewhere," a diplomat in Singapore
Officials said that the Singaporean militants were bankrolled by bin
Laden's network and that at least eight of the 13 members were
trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
Another cell in Singapore, which also was under Hambali's
command, was allegedly plotting to blow up U.S. warships docking
here, attack a shuttle bus used by American military personnel and
target the offices of major U.S. companies.
Officials in Singapore said the leader of that cell briefed al Qaeda
leaders about the proposed attack on the shuttle bus when he
traveled to Afghanistan for training between August 1999 and April
2000, showing them a grainy videotape of a subway station near
the shuttle-bus stop that he recommended bombing. But the
Singapore authorities said they believe the al Qaeda leadership
eventually nixed the attack because the target was not large
enough. The cell subsequently focused on attacking a U.S. naval
vessel and American corporations, officials said.
Intelligence sources said the videotape was discovered by the CIA
in an al Qaeda leader's house in Afghanistan along with briefing
notes written in Arabic. Although U.S. officials initially claimed that
the arrests were the result of the videotape, Singapore officials said
they were not provided with a copy of it until late December, four
days after police made the last arrest.
A senior Singapore government official said the security officers
began investigating the group shortly after Sept. 11 when a
resident told police one of the members might have links to al
Qaeda. Authorities rounded up all 13 suspects in December.
"The tape offered very useful corroboration," the official said. "But
by then we had it all wrapped up."
Singapore officials and Western diplomats portray the investigation
as a race against emboldened terrorists who were bent on
extracting revenge for the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.
In October, a few days after the U.S. airstrikes began, a Kuwaiti
using the code name "Sammy" and an Indonesian using the name
"Mike" slipped into Singapore to help Jemaah Islamiah members
prepare for the truck bombings.
The cell members took the visitors to Napier Road, just off the city's
main commercial boulevard, where they videotaped the U.S.
Embassy, a hulking, gray stone edifice atop a grassy hill. Sammy
and Mike advised the cell that they would need 17 tons of
ammonium nitrate in addition to the four tons they already had.
Although the cell was broken up by police before they could carry
out the attack, the dragnet was too slow to nab Sammy and Mike
before they fled Singapore. Under interrogation, members of the cell
claimed they did not know Sammy's and Mike's real names, but
they provided enough details to investigators for them to focus on
the Philippines, officials said.
Two weeks ago, Philippine police, acting on information from
Singapore, arrested the man believed to be Mike, a boyish
30-year-old named Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi, a former student at
an Islamic school in Indonesia run by Baasyir, the co-founder of
Philippine authorities now believe al-Ghozi -- who traveled
between Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines --
was a key Jemaah Islamiah operative who also knew Hambali and
was responsible for a series of bombings in Manila on Dec. 30,
2000, that killed 22 people and injured more than 100. Some
intelligence officials believe the Manila bombings, as well as a raft
of church bombings on Christmas Eve that year in Indonesia, may
have been a test run for the planned attacks in Singapore.
Fluent in several languages, al-Ghozi moved effortlessly through
Southeast Asia, using five passports and always staying in Muslim
neighborhoods. He often traveled on small fishing boats to avoid
detection, spending days at a time at sea.
After the Manila bombings, al-Ghozi repeatedly met or made
contact with one of Hambali's key lieutenants, Faiz Abu Bakar
Bafana, intelligence sources said. In one meeting, al-Ghozi has
told investigators, Bafana ordered him to procure five to seven tons
of explosives for use in Singapore and later gave him $18,000 as a
down payment on the purchases, the sources said.
Officials in Singapore and Malaysia said the four tons of ammonium
nitrate likely was purchased by Yazid Sufaat, 37, a Malaysian
chemist who studied in California and owns a medical testing
laboratory. Sufaat, a former Malaysian army captain, used his
laboratory in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, to order the
material in October 2000, the officials said.
U.S. and Malaysian officials said Sufaat is a Jemaah Islamiah
leader in Malaysia and a close associate of Hambali's. A
square-faced man with thick black hair, Sufaat was the person
Hambali asked to host Moussaoui at his three-bedroom
condominium in a suburban Kuala Lumpur high-rise in September
and October 2000, the officials said.
Sufaat was arrested in December after returning from Afghanistan,
where Malaysian officials say he served in a Taliban medical
The two Sept. 11 hijackers who visited Kuala Lumpur in January
2000 also stayed in Sufaat's condo for three days, although a
Malaysian government official said intelligence agents
photographing the building saw no evidence that Sufaat met with
the men. The hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were
followed by Malaysian agents, who were tipped off by the CIA.
The official said Hambali, who had a set of keys to the condo,
knew of the presence of Almihdhar and Alhazmi, and he likely met
U.S. law enforcement officials believe the rough outlines of the
Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington were likely
discussed during the visit to Kuala Lumpur. The U.S. officials also
believe the two men may have been involved during this time in
the planning of the bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of
Aden nine months later, in October 2000.
Although Malaysian officials said they immediately passed along
the information to the U.S. government, the CIA did not conclude
the meeting was significant until after the Cole bombing, when one
of the people in the photos was identified, in the summer of 2001,
as a possible suspect in the Cole attack. The CIA subsequently
warned U.S. immigration officials, to be on the lookout for Almihdhar
and Alhazmi, but by then, the men had already entered the United
Moussaoui, a French citizen who has been charged in federal
court with involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks, had traveled to
Malaysia for flying lessons, a Malaysian official said. Moussaoui
opted not to take the lessons in Malaysia after learning there were
no flight schools in the Kuala Lumpur area, the official said.
Before Moussaoui left for the United States, Sufaat gave him phony
business credentials written on stationery pilfered from a computer
company his wife co-owned, officials said. The credentials were
discovered by FBI agents when they raided Moussaoui's apartment
U.S. officials have alleged that Sufaat also gave Moussaoui at least
$35,000, but the Malaysian official said Sufaat has denied in
interrogations that money changed hands.
"We have found no evidence of it," the official said.
U.S. and Malaysian sources said the U.S. government has asked
Malaysia to extradite Sufaat. But the Malaysian official disputed
characterizations by U.S. officials that Sufaat played a crucial role
in hosting Moussaoui or with anything else having to do with the
Sept. 11 attacks. "If Hambali was the travel agent, then Sufaat was
the guy at the airport holding the sign," the official said.
Sufaat initially appeared an unlikely candidate to join a militant
group. He spent four years in the United States, studying
biochemistry at California State University's Sacramento campus.
After graduating in 1987, he returned to Malaysia and joined the
army, where he served as a lab technician in a medical brigade.
But shortly after he came back with his wife, a Malaysian he met in
California, his mother-in-law felt he was not religious enough and
asked him to study with a Muslim teacher, the official said. The
teacher, the official said, was part of an informal network of radical
clerics that included Hambali.
"After a while, Sufaat meets up with Hambali and he's slowly
inducted into the network," the official said. That was in the
mid-1990s. By the end of the decade, Sufaat rose to become a
trusted lieutenant of Hambali's.
Sufaat's wife, Sejahratul Dursina, told a Malaysian Internet news
service Friday night that her husband, who earlier in the day was
ordered detained for two years, was innocent. "I strongly deny
these allegations against him," she said. "They are baseless,
wrong and outrageous."
Little is known conclusively about Hambali. He was born and
educated in Indonesia. In the mid-1980s, he and other radical
Muslims, including Baasyir, the co-founder of Jemaah Islamiah,
fled to Malaysia to escape a crackdown on Islamic militancy
ordered by Indonesia's then-dictator, Suharto. In the late 1980s,
Hambali traveled to Afghanistan to fight against Soviet occupation
forces. When he returned, infused with a desire to continue an
armed struggle to promote Islam, he began preaching at mosques
around Malaysia that advocated a holy war against the United
States. Officials said he developed a friendship with Baasyir in the
early 1990s, and they jointly set up the Jemaah Islamiah.
The Malaysian official characterized Baasyir as the group's
"godfather" and Hambali as the "consigliere."
Under pressure from its neighbors, Indonesian police summoned
Baasyir for questioning in late January. But police did not arrest
him, saying they needed to further investigate his alleged
connections to al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah.
Correspondent Philip P. Pan in Manila and staff writer Dan Eggen
in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Indonesian Cleric Is Suspected of Being a Terrorist
By RAYMOND BONNER
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Feb. 2 - The biography of Riduan
Isamuddin, 36, is not unlike that of hundreds of other men his age in
this region. He attended an Islamic boarding school in his home
country of Indonesia, left when the government cracked down on
his brand of Islam, went off to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, then
became an itinerant preacher here, espousing a Muslim state from
here to the Philippines.
But now as the investigation into the activities of Al Qaeda
advances, a darker portrait is emerging of the round-faced,
bearded and bespectacled Mr. Isamuddin, widely known as
"The picture we are getting, which is becoming clearer and clearer,
is that Hambali was the point man for Al Qaeda in this region," a
senior Malaysian official said this evening.
An American official agreed: "All signs point to his being a major
One of Mr. Isamuddin's recruits and lieutenants was Yazid Sufaat,
an American-educated biochemist who has been in jail here since
December on terrorism charges.
Among other things, officials said, Mr. Isamuddin arranged for two of
the Sept. 11 hijackers to visit here and stay in Mr. Sufaat's
apartment. He also had Mr. Sufaat play host to Zacarias Moussaoui,
who has been charged in the United States in connection with the
attacks. Moreover, Mr. Isamuddin had Mr. Sufaat use his company
to purchase four tons of explosives for a planned attack after Sept.
11 on the United States Embassy in Singapore, officials said.
The senior Malaysian official described Mr. Isamuddin as the travel
agent for Al Qaeda in Southeast Asia and Mr. Sufaat as the
equivalent of the person who goes to the airport with a card
carrying the name of the passenger he is to meet.
This week, the F.B.I. said Malaysia was a staging area for the Sept.
11 attacks and an Al Qaeda base.
Malaysian officials have strongly rejected that. The senior official
said that it was unfair to describe Malaysia as anything more than a
"transit point" for Al Qaeda operatives.
An easy transit point, it might be said. Although the government of
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad does not brook much internal
dissent, it has had a liberal policy toward residents of other Muslim
countries: they are not required to have visas to enter the country.
In an interview here, the Malaysian official provided details from an
interrogation of Mr. Sufaat, who was arrested here in a roundup of
men with suspected links to Jemaah Islamiah, or the Islamic Group.
Acting on orders from Mr. Isamuddin, the Malaysian official said, Mr.
Sufaat used his clinical pathology company, Green Laboratory
Medicine, to purchase four tons of explosives that were to be
detonated in front of the American, Australian, British and Israeli
Embassies in Singapore. The plot was apparently thwarted by
Singapore officials when they arrested 13 men in December.
Mr. Sufaat went to Afghanistan last June and was there on Sept. 11.
He was arrested trying to return to Malaysia.
The Bush administration would like to extradite him, but has not
made a formal request. The Malaysians have shared the information
from his interrogation with the United States, the official said, but the
F.B.I. has not interviewed him.
Mr. Sufaat lived in Sacramento in the 1980's, according to public
records, and attended California State University there, the official
His wife also attended college in the United States, the official said,
but he said he did not know the name of the school.
After Mr. Sufaat returned to Malaysia in 1987, his in-laws urged him
to practice his religion more diligently, saying he had neglected it
while abroad, he told investigators, and it was then that he came
into Mr. Isamuddin's circle.
Two of the suspected Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and
Nawaq Alhazmi, stayed in Mr. Sufaat's apartment for three days in
January 2000; Mr. Isamuddin had a key to the apartment, the
Malaysian official said.
While here, Mr. Midhar and Mr. Alhazmi were followed by
Malaysian intelligence agents and were videotaped shopping,
making a call from a public phone and surfing Arabic- language
Web sites at an Internet cafe, the official said.
The official said the tapes were given to American intelligence
officials, but the men were not arrested because there was no
evidence they had committed any crime.
Again acting on orders from Mr. Isamuddin, Mr. Sufaat played host
to Mr. Moussaoui when he came in 2000. Mr. Moussaoui inquired
about flight schools here and discovered that there was one, but he
decided against attending because it was more than two hours from
the capital and did not provide training on jumbo jets, Mr. Sufaat
Mr. Sufaat provided Mr. Moussaoui with the letter that he used to
enroll in a flight school in the United States. Mr. Moussaoui has
pleaded not guilty to charges that he was part of the Sept. 11
Mr. Sufaat's wife has denied that her husband had any connections
with Al Qaeda or any terrorist organization. She has called the
charges "baseless, wrong and outrageous."
Malaysian and Singaporean officials say that Mr. Isamuddin ran the
operations for the Islamic Group. The group's spiritual leader, they
say, is another Indonesian cleric, Abu Bakar Baasyir. The
organization had cells in Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia,
according to the Singaporean government.
Mr. Isamuddin arranged for men to go to Afghanistan for training,
according to a statement from the Singaporean government. He
gave them false documents saying they were going to school in
Pakistan, which gave the recruits the cover they needed to explain
why they would be away from home for six months.
Mr. Isamuddin has not been seen since Sept. 11 and is believed to
be hiding in Indonesia, Malaysian and Singaporean authorities said.
They have asked the Indonesian government to search for him and
say they are not satisfied that the Indonesians are looking very