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Al Qaeda Behind Indonesia Bombings, Agent Says

Terrorism: Captured Kuwaiti says the network attacked churches and plotted an assassination.

September 18, 2002|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Al Qaeda is responsible for a series of deadly church bombings in Indonesia and plotted the assassination of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, according to the confession of a top agent from the terrorist network caught here.

Omar Faruq, a Kuwaiti who described himself as Al Qaeda's senior representative in Southeast Asia, said the group hoped to trigger a religious civil war in Indonesia that would lead to the formation of a "pure Islamic state," according to a confidential U.S. document obtained Tuesday by The Times.

Faruq's statements indicate that Al Qaeda has been much more active in Indonesia than the government has been willing to acknowledge. Top officials have repeatedly denied that terrorists have been operating in Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic country.

At the same time, Faruq's confession suggests that the terrorists have had a high failure rate in Indonesia. Various assassination and bomb plots were either bungled by the operatives or foiled by security measures taken to protect U.S. facilities, according to the electronic copy of the document summarizing his interrogation.

Faruq said he was sent to Southeast Asia by top Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to plan "large-scale attacks" against U.S. interests in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Indonesian intelligence agents arrested Faruq in early June south of Jakarta, the capital, and handed him over to the United States. He was taken to a third country, reportedly Afghanistan, for interrogation.

One U.S. official said the document is "an accurate report" of what Faruq told U.S. agents during his interrogation. U.S. authorities are trying to corroborate his statements.

On Sept. 9, Faruq told his interrogators that he had set in motion a plot to bomb U.S. embassies in Asia to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

At least one other Al Qaeda operative in custody confirmed his statement, prompting the United States to shut its embassies in Indonesia, Malaysia and several other countries and to raise its terrorism alert to "code orange," the second-highest on a scale of five.

This week, Time magazine reported many details of Faruq's confession, including two plots against Megawati and the establishment of a school on the island of Borneo to train Islamic militants. The magazine said its report was based on a secret CIA document and regional intelligence reports.

The document obtained by The Times says that Faruq admitted his involvement in a plot to shoot Megawati in 1999 before she became president. Faruq said he was to be the triggerman, according to the account. The plot also targeted 40 unidentified "prominent citizens," the document said. There is no indication that any of the killings took place.

A second plot against Megawati was planned for August 2001 shortly after she was elected president, the document says. Faruq said that bombers planned to blow up Megawati in or near the Atrium mall in Jakarta but that their device went off prematurely, seriously injuring the man carrying it.

It is unclear, however, whether this attack was aimed at the president. According to Megawati's office, she was nowhere near the Atrium building that day. A lawyer for one of the arrested bombing suspects said this year that they were targeting Christians who they believed would be gathering at the mall that day.

Much of the document focuses on Faruq's connections with Abu Bakar Bashir, an Islamic cleric who is accused of heading the terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiah.

Authorities say Jemaah Islamiah planned to blow up the U.S. Embassy and six other buildings in Singapore last year using truck bombs driven by suicide bombers. The plot was uncovered, and dozens of suspects have been arrested in Singapore and Malaysia.

Singapore and Malaysia say Bashir is the head of Jemaah Islamiah and have sought his arrest, but Indonesian officials say they have no evidence against him. The U.S. government is considering adding the group to its list of international terrorist organizations.

In an interview Tuesday, Bashir denied that he had ever been involved in terrorist activity and said that he had never met Faruq.

"My ability is proselytizing and teaching. That's it," Bashir said. "So, that information is absolutely untrue. It's a big lie!"

According to the document, Faruq said that Al Qaeda encouraged Bashir's goal of sparking "a religious civil war in Indonesia in order to achieve his vision of a pure Islamic state under Islamic law."

Bashir's plan of "training jihadists and massing weapons and ammunition" has been coordinated with a senior lieutenant of Osama bin Laden known as Rashid, the report said.

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