Mastermind of Bali bombing arrested

Capture of militant who planned the operation will establish a clear link for the first time between JI and the attack.

Indonesian police yesterday arrested one of the key masterminds of the Bali bombing, the most significant breakthrough in the investigation so far.

The capture of Afghan-trained militant Imam Samudra provides authorities here for the first time with evidence of a direct link between the bombing and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group, of which he is a member.

Police chief Da’i Bachtiar told reporters that the 35-year-old engineer was nabbed at the Merak port in the province of Banten, in West Java.

He was caught inside a bus that was about to enter a ferry at the port to head for Sumatra. Two other people were detained on Tuesday in a village in Banten but General Bachtiar did not elaborate on their links to Samudra.

Local reports said they were his bodyguards. The arrest comes more than two weeks after police arrested Amrozi, one of the bombers, who had given police the names of the other suspects and detailed the bomb plot.

Police are trying to find seven other suspects.

On Sunday, police released sketches of the suspects, raided Islamic boarding schools and swept rural villages.

Indonesian intelligence officials indicated that Samudra, who has six aliases, was high up in the list, given concerns that he was preparing to launch attacks in Jakarta, Surabaya and Medan against Westerners and ethnic Chinese.

Police, who believe that he was involved in the church bombings in 2000 and the attack outside the Philippine embassy in the same year, said that he chaired meetings to plan the Oct 12 bombing in Bali, identified the targets and gave the order to carry it out.

Gen Bachtiar said he was JI’s operations chief in Indonesia. Sources said he was recruited into JI when he was teaching at the Al Tarbiyah Luqmanyul Hakiem religious boarding school near Johor in the early nineties.

The school was run by Abu Bakar Bashir and Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali – both of whom are suspected of being leaders of JI.

Political observers said that Samudra’s arrest would establish a clear connection for the first time between JI and the Bali bombing and tighten the net further around militant figures like Bashir.

Over the last six weeks, JI’s involvement was just mere speculation. A senior diplomat noted: ‘It is going to open up a new Pandora’s box of other masterminds in the plot.’

Intelligence sources believe Samudra was high up in the command hierarchy that plotted the Bali attack. He was a key link between five to eight ‘foot soldiers’ who executed the bombing, and three other ‘field commanders’ who were in the first tier of operations.

Two of them are Syahfullah, a 40-year-old Yemeni and an Al-Qaeda operative who is believed to have entered Indonesia through Singapore on a fake US passport, and Mukhlas, Amrozi’s elder brother, now on the run in Malaysia.

The third man is a Malaysian called Zubair, who is linked to Parti Islam SeMalaysia and the Kumpulan Militan Malaysia.

A senior intelligence official told The Straits Times: ‘Imam was the point man for Al-Qaeda and the other commanders and the man who planned the attack on the ground. This is a very important catch for us.’

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