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Bali Blast Suspect Says He Chose Sites

First explosion was apparently carried out by a suicide bomber, Indonesia police say.

November 23, 2002|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The suspected ringleader of last month's deadly Bali bombing confessed Friday that he personally selected two crowded nightclubs as his targets to further the cause of Islamic holy war, police officials said.

Terrorism suspect Imam Samudra, who was arrested Thursday trying to flee the island of Java, also told police that the first of three blasts to hit Bali within seconds of each other Oct. 12 was a suicide bomb carried in a backpack by a Muslim "martyr."

If true, it would signal the arrival in Indonesia of a tactic widely used by Muslim militants in the Middle East but not here, where security is generally less strict and such extreme measures aren't taken. Investigators had concluded that the first bomb, which went off in Paddy's pub, killing eight people, was detonated by cell phone seconds before a car bomb exploded across the street, killing 183.

National Police Chief Dai Bachtiar, who met with Samudra, said the suspect also confessed that he had participated in at least four previous bombings in Indonesia, including attacks on churches and a shopping mall here in the capital.

Samudra, 35, told police that he was motivated by his belief that Muslims are treated unfairly by the non-Islamic world.

"He is a stern person, and he looks like a person who sticks to his principles," said Erwin Mappaseng, the national chief of detectives. "He is not afraid to die. He is different from a criminal. A criminal who was arrested would be scared. But not him."

In the town of Cilegong, where Samudra was being held, police briefly brought him outdoors for television cameras but hustled him back inside when he and several supporters began shouting, "Allahu akbar!" Arabic for "God is great!"

Wearing a blue "Converse Original" T-shirt, Samudra appeared determined and intense. His forehead bore a mark made by repeatedly pressing his head on the floor while praying, a blemish considered by some to be a sign of devotion.

Samudra is believed to be an important figure in Jemaah Islamiah, a regional terrorist network linked with Al Qaeda. His arrest, less than six weeks after the Bali attack, was a big break for police.

Indonesia has been plagued by numerous unsolved bombings during the last two years. Now authorities are beginning to perceive that Jemaah Islamiah has been behind dozens of terrorist attacks aimed at killing Christians and destabilizing this largely Islamic country.

As authorities pursue at least five more suspects in the Bali bombing, there are continued warnings of future attacks.

Three international schools in Jakarta have been closed for more than a week because of what Western intelligence analysts believe are "specific" and "credible" threats.

Police Gen. I Made Mangku Pastika, who heads the Bali bombing investigation, said police are looking into whether Samudra set any new attacks in motion before his arrest.

"Police now are still investigating him and trying to reveal [any] broader network, because there are indications Samudra has a new plan," Pastika told reporters in Bali.

Samudra might be able to provide investigators with information about the workings of Jemaah Islamiah and its alleged leaders, radical clerics Abu Bakar Bashir and Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali. Bashir is under arrest; Hambali is on the run.

Based on Samudra's statement, police said they would reexamine the bombing at Paddy's to see if there was evidence of its being a suicide attack. Samudra said the bomber was a man named Iqbal who detonated the bomb as he walked into the club.

Police said they would compare DNA from Iqbal's relatives with corpses found in the bar.

Samudra told police that he had spent more than two years in Afghanistan, where he fought against Soviet forces and learned to use weapons. He later moved to Malaysia and spent more than six years there.

He returned to Indonesia in 2000 determined to carry out jihad, or holy war. Police said he admitted taking part in at least one in a series of church bombings on Christmas Eve that year that killed 19 people in 10 cities.

The next year, he told police, he helped bomb two churches and arranged for what turned out to be the bungled bombing of the Atrium Mall in Jakarta, in which one of the bombers blew off his leg.

About a month before the Bali bombing, according to his confession, Samudra ordered two of his henchmen to rob a jewelry store to raise funds. They got away with more than $40,000. Both men were arrested this week and helped point out Samudra to police as he boarded a ferry bound for Sumatra.

Samudra told police that 12 people were involved in the Bali bombings. He knew Amrozi, the man who was arrested two weeks ago for buying the car and explosives used in the attack, from his years in Malaysia.

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