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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. - Editor]

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 the globe.

"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 missing.

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 said.

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 Jemaah Islamiah.

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 brigade.

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 the men.

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 States.

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 in Minneapolis.

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 ex=1013317200&en=eade261f04949698&ei=5040

February 3, 2002


Indonesian Cleric Is Suspected of Being a Terrorist


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 Hambali.

"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 figure."

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 said.

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 told investigators.

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 conspiracy.

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 hard.