JI arrests mar plans for new terror attacks

New wave of violence targeted at Jakarta churches and shops, say police; JI chief Hambali still believed to be in Indonesia.

Indonesian police have arrested seven members of the Jemaah Islamiah over the past three days and recovered explosives and chemicals capable of making a bomb more powerful than the ones used in the Bali blasts.

Two of those arrested were senior members of the terrorist network.

But Asia’s most wanted man, Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali, has eluded arrest despite recent reports in Jakarta that he had been shot and captured.

Indonesian police revealed yesterday that they had disrupted plans by Islamic radicals to attack churches and shops in Jakarta.

Intelligence sources told The Straits Times they believe that Hambali, JI’s operations chief, was still in Indonesia – most recently in West Java – ‘moving from one religious boarding school to another’ to avoid capture.

Said a senior official from the state intelligence agency: ‘He is in Indonesia and on the run. But he is finding it difficult to escape.

‘He cannot cross the borders into Malaysia or the Philippines because he knows he will be caught.’

Hambali is thought to have returned to meet other JI members for a new wave of attacks.

But this week’s capture of seven JI suspects – including two senior members – appeared to have undermined those plans.

Jakarta police chief Makbul Padmanegara told reporters yesterday that one of the suspects committed suicide shortly after his arrest yesterday near President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s main private residence.

He said 28-year-old Ihwanudin grabbed an M-16 rifle from a police officer during questioning, ran into a bathroom and shot himself in the chest.

The two other suspects, identified as Pranata Yuda and Suyono, were arrested in Jakarta on Tuesday. Pranata, in particular, is a significant catch as he oversaw operations in Malaysia.

Malaysian security officials expect his arrest to yield information on three JI operatives from Malaysia still in hiding in Indonesia: Azahari Mohamed, known as the bomb-maker and the man who put together the explosives for the Bali blasts, Nordin Top and Shamsul Bahari.

Pranata had been working on new bombing targets when he was arrested.

Police also revealed yesterday the seizure of a sizeable arms cache, including 22,000 rounds of ammunition, 160kg of TNT and 900kg of potassium chlorate, in separate raids in Jakarta and Semarang, Central Java. A JI base camp was also reportedly uncovered near Semarang.

Asked if the explosives could pack a punch 10 times that of the blasts that killed over 200 people in Bali, Central Java police chief Didi Widayadi said: ‘More than that.’

The latest arrests add to the scores of JI operatives caught since the deadly Bali bombings last year.

Jakarta intelligence authorities believe that several of the JI’s estimated 1,000 members are in hiding in the southern Philippines.

Said an official: ‘There is not much of a structure in JI now with several of its key leaders behind bars… But the continued Al-Qaeda connection and a Hambali on the loose still make them a serious threat.’

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