JI chiefs planning another strike’
Indonesian intelligence official says the terror group aims to launch a Bali-style attack in the region in next few months.
With several of its members captured or on the run, five men have moved to the top of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network.
And ‘indications point to an attempt by a leadership to carry out a Bali-style operation in Indonesia or the region in the next few months, to make the point that they are still alive,’ an Indonesian intelligence official revealed.
‘We might have arrested several of their members, but the network is far from being crippled. JI has shown this ability to adapt to changes by further breaking down the command structure and allowing terrorist cells to operate independently.’
The leaders and their operatives in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia face difficulty communicating, given intensifying surveillance. Still, security sources in the region told The Straits Times they continued to be a deadly threat because much of the group’s infrastructure remained in place.
The threat was underscored yesterday by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, who will help frame a new masterplan for the Republic’s defence, especially against terrorism, when he takes over as Coordinating Minister for Security and Defence tomorrow.
The United States has also issued new warnings that terrorists may be plotting new suicide hijack missions in the US or Europe.
Security sources said none of the five rising JI leaders had clearly taken over from Abu Bakar Bashir, the network’s spiritual head.
But they warned that all were diehards, motivated not just by crude ideology but also revenge for the arrests of around 200 members in the last two years.
Topping the list is Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali. Sources say he supplied US$35,000 (S$61,755) for the Bali bombings.
Intelligence officials say he was last seen in Cambodia and Thailand. But he remains in constant touch with other members and continues to disburse funds to militants.
The next most senior leader is Zulkarnaen or Arif Sunarso. What is causing concern is his command of JI’s militant wing ‘Aksari’.
Speculation is that he has assumed control of ‘Unit Kos’, a special operations outfit specialising in bombings and assassinations which it is thought used to report directly to Bashir.
‘Zulkarnaen is a very dangerous man,’ said an Indonesian counter-terrorism police source. ‘He is hardline, and the main man coordinating movements on the ground.’
Malaysian bomb expert Azahari Husin is said by a security source to be ‘a hardliner prepared to make personal sacrifices to see that he achieves his terrorist objective’.
‘Azahari’s wife is dying of cancer but he left her with the parting words that he had the greater cause of God to serve,’ he said. ‘It reveals the depth of ideological and religious indoctrination these people have gone through.’
Azahari is known to have conducted bomb-making classes. He and Indonesian electronics expert, Dul Matin, 38, made the Bali bombs.
And intelligence officials in the region believe another Malaysian, Noordin Mohammad Top, was also involved in planning an attack. He is a senior member of JI’s Johor cell.
Sources said Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who escaped from a Manila prison, is unlikely to assume a leadership post, but the bombmaker and surveillance expert remains important, given his links to Filipino Muslim rebels.
The southern Philippines is emerging as a JI training ground, especially territories controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Indonesia is an ideological breeding ground for militants crossing into southern Philippines for terrorist training.
A large cache of weapons, chemicals and explosives – some of which might have come from the MILF – seized in Central Java recently was just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
An Indonesian intelligence source said that given JI’s tentacles in the country – with cells running down through provincial, district and village levels – ‘there could be an infinite number of places in the country storing bombs and hiding terrorists’.
‘The bottom line is simple: Indonesia needs strong laws to detain these people indefinitely without trial,’ he said.
‘That is what Singapore and Malaysia have done. If we do not do the same, many more people are going to die.’ No one doubts that terrorism is going to be with us for a long time … that the terrorist networks will be looking for every opportunity to strike at Singapore and Singapore interests, and this could take place anywhere around the world.’
– DPM Tony Tan, on threats to the Republic.
Top 5 for terror
They’re on the run and planning more JI havoc, intelligence officials say
Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, is the point man for Al-Qaeda in South-east Asia. Key role in Indonesia’s Christmas Eve church bombings in 2000; led a Bangkok meeting that triggered planning for the Bali bombings.
Zulkarnaen, alias Arif Sunarso, a cleric in his 50s. He was chief of field operations for the Bali bombings.
Dr Azahari Husin, a Malaysian, is an engineer by training and a former university lecturer. He is on KL’s list of top 10 most wanted persons.
Indonesian Dul Matin, alias Noval, 38, nicknamed ‘Genius’ for his electronics expertise. He assembled the Bali bombs with Azahari and is said to have sent the phone message that set them off.
Malaysian Noordin Mohd Top, senior in JI’s Johor cell, believed to be on the run inIndonesia. He is known as Hambali’s liaison officer.