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School Raided in Bali Probe

Indonesian police call rural Islamic center 'headquarters of the plot' to blow up nightclubs. Five men are under investigation.

November 10, 2002|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

TENGGULUN, Indonesia — Hunting three fugitive brothers who are suspected terrorists, police raided an Islamic boarding school here Saturday where they believe plotters who blew up two nightclubs on the island of Bali last month were based.

Five men connected with the Al-Islam school in this remote East Java village -- two cofounders, the director and two teachers -- are under investigation for their role in the car bombing that killed at least 191 people.

Two alleged members of the purported terrorist cell have been taken into custody. They include a cofounder of the school known as Amrozi who authorities say has admitted playing a key role in the bombing. On Friday, police detained the school director, Zakaria, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

Police are searching for the other three, all brothers of Amrozi.

The horror of the Bali bombing was so great that many Indonesians refuse to believe their fellow citizens could have carried it out. But police are finding strong evidence that the perpetrators were home-grown Muslim militants with links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

"The headquarters of the plot is the Islamic boarding school we just raided," said Agung, a police investigator. "There are a lot of suspects here, the planner, the mastermind. They are criminals with religion as their mask."

Police said the rundown Al-Islam pesantren is affiliated with the Al-Mukmin school in Central Java province founded by Abu Bakar Bashir, a militant cleric. Bashir was taken into custody last month in connection with several terrorist bombings but has not been charged in the Bali blast.

At least three of the alleged Al-Islam cell members were once students at Bashir's Al-Mukmin pesantren, police and local authorities said.

One of the Al-Mukmin graduates, Amrozi's youngest brother, Ali Imron, detonated the Bali car bomb, police say.

Bashir is accused of heading the secretive Jemaah Islamiah terrorist group, which has allegedly been responsible for dozens of bombings in Southeast Asia that have killed more than 40 people. Police said the Al-Islam cell was part of the Jemaah Islamiah network, and suspect that Jemaah Islamiah financed the cell's activities.

Bashir traveled at least twice to the isolated village, where he visited the school and Amrozi's home. The well-known cleric's most recent visit was in June, just before Amrozi purchased the white Mitsubishi minivan used in the Bali bombing.

Bashir has admitted visiting the Al-Islam school but denies any part in terrorist activities.

Tenggulun, about a two-hour drive west of the city of Surabaya, is one of the poorest villages in East Java. Most residents support themselves by growing rice and corn. Many of the houses are in need of repair, and cows outnumber cars on the village streets.

Amrozi, who grew up in Tenggulun, is one of 13 children by his father's two wives. Amrozi and at least three of his seven brothers founded the Al-Islam school in 1993, authorities said. Today, it has about 150 students who come from all over Indonesia.

On Saturday morning, the students could be heard in their classrooms chanting verses from the Koran in Arabic.

Soon after, more than a dozen police mounted the raid, searching for photographs and other evidence that would lead them to the three brothers, who disappeared after Amrozi was arrested Tuesday.

As police armed with automatic rifles stood guard, plainclothes intelligence officers combed through the meager belongings in the tiny, roughly made rooms occupied by Zakaria, the school principal, and several teachers, including Amrozi's half-brother Ali Fauzi, 35.

In Zakaria's quarters, a baby slept on a mat on the concrete floor as officers pored over family photos and documents written in Arabic and Indonesian.

Police said Zakaria strongly resembles photos of Southeast Asia's most wanted terrorist, Hambali, and speculated that they might be the same person. However, the chances seem slim, because Hambali is reported to be constantly on the move while Zakaria has been working at the school for nearly a decade.

In another apartment, police seized photos of faculty members dressed in camouflage gear -- evidence, they said, of the rigorous military training that the students undergo. Several students, however, denied ever receiving military-style training and said the pictures were taken during a camping trip.

In one teacher's room, police searched through a cabinet adorned with a sticker that read: "I am a Muslim child. I love the truth."

Police were led to the school earlier in the week by tracing the chassis number of the minivan used in the bombing back to Amrozi, the last registered owner of the vehicle.

Someone had filed off the number before the Oct. 12 blast but left enough of the underlying metal so that Western forensic experts assisting in the investigation could decipher the digits.

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