Two men in running for JI’s top post

SPECIAL REPORT: HAMBALI’S ARREST

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Asia’s most-wanted man Cleric Zulkarnaen and master bombmaker Azahari are both tipped to be strong contenders to succeed Hambali.

THE capture of fugitive Hambali just means that another hardliner will have to take the helm and lead the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist organisation.

Security sources in the region have identified two men who are top contenders for this leadership post.

They are Azahari bin Husin, a Malaysian national who is a master bombmaker, and Zulkarnaen, a cleric.

Azahari is believed to have masterminded the deadly JW Marriott Hotel bomb attack in Jakarta last week.

He was also responsible for designing the bomb that struck two nightclubs in Bali last October, killing 202 people.

Zulkarnaen, a cleric in his 50s, is the most senior member of JI.

Counter-terrorism officials said that he controlled the Askari, JI’s armed wing, and more importantly, the Unit Khos.

Intelligence sources said that Unit Khos is likely to play a bigger role, with Hambali’s capture.

Tasked with bombings and assassinations, and made up predominantly of suicide bombers drawn from terror cells around the country, it could initiate random strikes independently.

Zulkarnaen is said to have in his possession at least three bombs which Azahari made for him to carry out major attacks in Indonesia in the next four months.

The two top contenders for the leadership post tally with the choice of Singapore-based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna.

However, he tends to think that Zulkarnaen is the more likely successor.

‘Azahari has the capability to conduct an operation, but it is not very clear if he can lead the group,’ he told The Straits Times.

Zulkarnaen was also the host for the decisive meeting at a house in Central Java in August last year, where the key decisions for the Bali blasts were taken and the various cell members were given their responsibilities.

Dr Gunaratna believes there is a third contender, Zulkifli Marzuki, another senior JI leader who has served as Hambali’s right-hand man. He is believed to be a JI secretary and is still at large.

There is little doubt that the American and regional intelligence agencies are now closest to dismantling the network, with its chief operations man in their custody.

Much will depend on what Hambali is prepared to tell them. And even if he does loosen his tongue, he might not have an inkling of the monster he has created.

In Indonesia itself, JI’s tentacles run down through provincial, district and village levels.

A one-star Indonesian police general noted: ‘The cells reproduce very fast. Every time we catch a few, others move up to take over. Hambali is a big catch but what is to stop the others from continuing their attacks?’

Operationally, JI has become much more ineffective since the capture of some 200 members in the region over the last 18 months.

But the fact remains that there are still two or three more bombs with Azahari’s signature out there.

The JI threat is not over.

It is a hurt and wounded tiger. But the further we push them into a corner, the more likely they are going to fight back in a way which is even more unpredictable.
– An Indonesian intelligence official, on the Jemaah Islamiah

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