Jakarta team in Pakistan to track Hambali

Intelligence sources say he has strong links with militant groups there, and one of them could have offered him refuge

The Indonesian authorities have sent a five-man intelligence team to Pakistan in a widening search for suspected terrorist Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, beyond South-east Asia.

Sources here said that the team was sent earlier this week to track the whereabouts of the 36-year-old cleric who is believed to have masterminded several bombings in Indonesia over the past year and plotted attacks against American targets in the region.

A one-star army general told The Straits Times there was a strong likelihood that one of several extremist groups in Pakistan could have offered refuge to the veteran of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

He disclosed that the team, led by a colonel, would work closely with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which had indicated there was a strong chance that Hambali was in the country.

Attempts by the authorities to track him down here have been unsuccessful, as has a region-wide search.

An intelligence source said: ‘He has a number of countries that he can run to, including Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Pakistan. At this stage, Pakistan is top of the list because of his close links with militant groups there.’

Several of Hambali’s associates from the militant Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group were also said to be on the move. They included his right-hand man and financier Abdul Agis. Both men are suspected of orchestrating attacks against churches in Indonesia on Dec 24, 2000.

Hambali, who is also on Interpol’s wanted list, has been identified as being the point man for Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terrorist network in the region.

The Straits Times understands that Hambali continues to head the structure of the JI group here, which is divided into four cells and run by militants who want to carry on the legacy of Darul Islam – the 1949 movement that set out to establish an Indonesian Islamic state.

Through links to groups in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, the JI attempted to create a region-wide Islamic republic.

Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir also stands accused of being a leader of the JI group.

Western diplomats believe he provided the ideological foundation and, through his religious boarding school, could have recruited members for the JI’s cause.

Indonesian intelligence sources said the 64-year-old cleric still had regular contact with JI members, but this was not enough to detain him.

Abu Bakar has denied accusations that he has terrorist links. Yesterday, a Jakarta court began hearing a libel suit he filed against the Singapore Government. But the case was adjourned as the Singapore Ambassador, reportedly called to represent the Republic in the case, was not present.

In Singapore, a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, in response to press queries on the hearing, said the Government and Embassy, together with all other foreign governments and diplomatic missions, enjoy state and diplomatic immunity from the legal process and proceedings.

‘We have conveyed the position of the Singapore Government to the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs, and have requested that the department convey our position to the South Jakarta District Court,’ the spokesman added.

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