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Indonesia Seizes Alleged Planner of Bali Bombing

The arrest of Imam Samudra, who was also sought in a series of attacks on churches, is a major breakthrough for the nation's police force.

November 22, 2002|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The alleged organizer of last month's deadly Bali bombing was arrested Thursday on a public bus as he prepared to board a ferry for the island of Sumatra, police said.

The arrest in West Java is a major breakthrough for Indonesian police, who identified suspect Imam Samudra on Sunday as the "field commander" of the Oct. 12 attack that killed 191 people, mostly foreign tourists. Seven Americans were among the dead.

Police said today that Samudra had confessed to his involvement in the attack.

Samudra, 35, who used many aliases and was described as "highly mobile," was also wanted for his alleged role in a series of other bombings in Indonesia, including attacks on churches on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 19 people.

Authorities believe Samudra could provide crucial information about Jemaah Islamiah, a regional terror network associated with Al Qaeda that allegedly is behind a two-year wave of attacks extending from Bali to Manila to Penang, Malaysia.

Police said Samudra surrendered without a struggle when police stopped his bus at 5:30 p.m. just before it boarded the ferry in the bustling West Java port of Merak, about 600 miles from the bomb site in Bali.

Police Chief Dai Bachtiar said officers had begun closing in on Samudra this week when they arrested two of his guards near his hometown of Serang, about 30 miles from the port. The two men, identified as Rauf and Yudi, led police to Samudra.

"Three people have been arrested. One of them is Imam Samudra," Bachtiar told reporters. "There was no resistance. There was no weapon."

Authorities said that both bodyguards were with Samudra on Bali and were involved in the bombing. Indonesian media reported that Rauf is a computer expert. They said police tracked Samudra to West Java by tracing a cell phone number.

Police say Samudra learned how to make bombs in Afghanistan during the late 1980s or the 1990s. He also spent many years in Malaysia, including time at an Islamic school in the city of Johor Bahru that was a meeting point for Indonesian extremists. Among those he would have encountered there were radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir and another suspect in the Bali plot, known as Idris.

Police Gen. I Made Mangku Pastika, who is heading the Bali investigation, said Samudra was the most intellectual of the alleged plotters and was often seen carrying a laptop computer case. Samudra remained in Bali for four days after the bombing to monitor police progress in the investigation, Pastika said.

Samudra, born Abdul Azis, had been wanted in Indonesia since early last year, when police determined that he had played a central role in organizing a series of bombings that hit 30 churches in 10 cities on Christmas Eve 2000.

Some say the Bali bombing might have been prevented if authorities had pursued him aggressively then. Instead, he was able to roam freely around Indonesia, including travels to Central Java, where he reportedly held planning meetings for the Bali attack.

Indonesia, which its neighbors have accused of doing too little to combat terrorism, has stepped up its efforts since the Bali bombing. Last month, police arrested Bashir, who had been named by terrorist suspects in custody in other countries as the leader of Jemaah Islamiah.

Indonesian police accuse the 64-year-old cleric of involvement in the Christmas Eve bombings, the bombing of Indonesia's national mosque and a plot to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri, but he has not been tied to the Bali bombing. He denies any part in terror activities.

Police got their first break in the Bali case when they identified the chassis number of the minivan used in the bombing and tracked down its owner, a part-time mechanic and Islamic school teacher named Amrozi. He gave police details of the plot, including Samudra's role as the organizer, according to authorities.

Under interrogation, Samudra could provide what police call the "missing link" that would tie the Bali attack to Bashir and the Jemaah Islamiah leadership.

Authorities believe that the order for the Bali bombing was given by Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, an Indonesian cleric who is alleged to be Jemaah Islamiah's operations chief and a high-level Al Qaeda member.

Hambali and Bashir were close associates in Malaysia during the 1990s.

Police concluded last year that Hambali and Samudra had worked as a team to organize the Christmas Eve bombings, traveling around Indonesia to meet with terrorist cell members and provide them with money and explosives to carry out the attacks.

Police said this week that the Bali suspects could be hiding at Islamic boarding schools and called on religious leaders to cooperate in the search.

After the bombing, Samudra apparently traveled by ferry from Bali to Java, then made his way across the long, narrow island to the port at Merak.

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