JI planning another Bali-scale hit

Letter reveals plans, names 12 militants ready to be martyrs.

PLANNING is well under way for a terrorist attack in Indonesia this year that could be as devastating as the 2002 Bali bombings, according to a document obtained by The Straits Times.

The document is a letter from a Sumatran-based operative of the Jemaah Islamiah which tells of militants being trained for suicide bombings in the capital.

It was written to the network’s top bomb maker Azahari Husin, a Malaysian who has been on the run after plotting three of Indonesia’s worst terrorist strikes.

A leading Indonesian security official and terrorism expert believes the note is authentic.

Dated Nov 26, 2004, the seven-page letter is written in pidgin Arabic, which is used by religious clerics in boarding schools here.

Mr Ansyaad Mbai, a senior Indonesian counter-terrorism official who studied the letter, said: ‘It is a credible document and corroborates some of our findings in the field that there will be another bombing.’

They chose a letter to communicate because the Internet and telephones in the region are being monitored closely, a fact acknowledged in the document itself.

The letter also names Palembang and Padang in Sumatra as hiding places for ‘the tools’ of a future terrorist operation.

Mr Ansyaad, who heads the counter-terrorism desk in the Coordinating Ministry for Politics and Security, estimated that there were up to 30 JI members involved.

‘Indonesia is facing an imminent Bali-style attack from these radicals,’ he said. ‘The cells might be splintered but they are still being held together by a common jihadist ideological platform to build an Islamic Caliphate in the region.’

American officials in Jakarta said that the document ‘tracks with some of the information we have been receiving’.

‘That is reflected in the travel advisory we issued recently,’ said Mr Lewis Amselem, the Deputy Chief of Mission in the US Embassy. ‘It is in keeping with some of the things that JI militants have done before and are planning to do.’

Singapore Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said earlier this week at the Global Security Asia conference that JI was regrouping and reaching out to others.

‘Much of the JI network and its infrastructure of radical schools continue to operate in the region,’ he said. ‘They know they are under watch and are consolidating their strength.’

In fact, last October, Indonesian police searched a house near Bogor in West Java, where they found seven bombs and lunch box-styled containers. They also discovered 14 other bombs being prepared and diagrams, maps and two backpacks of high explosives.

Police sources have said the JI network still had at least 200 kg of explosives and materials.

In what intelligence officers said was clearly a code word for a bomb, the latest document, which was neatly written on a white A4-sized foolscap paper, tells of people being trained to make ‘the donut cake’ in Lampung, Bengkulu, Padang and Palembang, all in Sumatra.

It also listed the names of 12 operatives, aged between 20 and 27, who were willing to be ‘martyrs’.

The letter obtained by The Straits Times from an underground extremist group in Sumatra was signed by one Akhmad Mulkhani.

He led a meeting of several JI cells in Martapura in South Sumatra on Nov 25, 2004, where they discussed a potential strike on targets in the capital between September and November this year.

The letter says: ‘According to our brothers here, the condition in Jakarta is getting extra tight, especially in the US Embassy and its allies’ offices. We suggest that you consider attacking places which are more open like the Marriott Hotel but to try to avoid Muslim victims.’

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, a leading terrorist expert and author of Inside Al Qaeda, has described the note as ‘valuable and authentic’.

‘It provides unprecedented information on operations that are likely to be carried out,’ he said.

‘It clearly shows what intelligence agencies have been picking up: that it has suffered and operating under great difficulty because of security measures.’

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