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Evidence of Al Qaeda's Asian Ties Mounting

Regional terrorists received funds and training for attacks, a report and officials say.

August 27, 2003|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Al Qaeda is suspected of funneling at least $80,000 to Indonesian militants to finance two of the country's deadliest bombings, Police Chief of Detectives Erwin Mappaseng said Tuesday.

In addition, at least 34 Islamic militants allegedly involved in bombings in Indonesia received training at the terrorist network's camps in Afghanistan, including some who knew Osama bin Laden, according to a report released by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based policy analysis group.

The findings are among mounting evidence that a three-year terrorism campaign in Indonesia carried out by the militant group Jemaah Islamiah is part of a global jihad aimed at eliminating Western influence and establishing Taliban-style Islamic states in Muslim areas.

Jemaah Islamiah, which operates throughout Southeast Asia and Australia, is blamed for twin nightclub bombings in Bali in October that killed 202 people, a Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta on Aug. 5 that killed 12, and dozens of other bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Despite arrests in the Bali and Jakarta bombings, including the recent capture in Thailand of a top Indonesian militant known as Hambali, officials say the group remains a serious threat.

"The information emerging from the interrogation of JI suspects indicates that this is a bigger organization than previously thought with a depth of leadership that gives it a regenerative capacity," the ICG said in its report, referring to Jemaah Islamiah. "It has communication with and has received funding from Al Qaeda, but it is very much independent and takes most, if not all, operational decisions locally."

Mappaseng said in an interview with The Times that Hambali provided at least $35,500 in Al Qaeda funds to help finance the Bali bombings and at least $45,000 to help carry out the Marriott bombing. Hambali transferred the money through intermediaries in Malaysia and Thailand, Mappaseng said.

"Based on the confessions of some of the suspects, the money came from 'the Sheik,' and 'the Sheik' means Osama bin Laden," he said. "Whether it is only that amount, we don't know yet. It could be more."

Mappaseng said Indonesian police had asked permission to interrogate Hambali, who was being held by American authorities at an undisclosed location.

"It's very important for us to be able to question him to learn about the terrorist attacks that took place in Indonesia and what is the plan for the future," he said.

The ICG report, titled "Jemaah Islamiah in Southeast Asia: Damaged but Still Dangerous," estimates that the group has thousands of members spread across the more than 17,000 islands of the Indonesian archipelago, many with weapons or explosives training.

The group dates to about 1985, when hundreds of Islamic militants from Indonesia began traveling to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet troops occupying the country. Most were followers of the late radical cleric Abdullah Sungkar, who founded Jemaah Islamiah in 1992 along with another cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir.

In Afghanistan, the Indonesians set up their own military and religious training facility within one of the moujahedeen camps and provided training of as long as three years, according to the ICG report.

In the mid-1990s, the group moved to the southern Philippines and set up a training facility within Camp Abu Bakar, a sprawling base run by the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The camp was captured by Philippine troops in 2000.

Jemaah Islamiah apparently spent more than a decade preparing before launching its wave of terror. Its first known bombing in Indonesia was in 2000.

Over the last two years, more than 200 members of the group have been arrested, including many of its leaders. However, the network's decentralized structure and encouragement of individual initiative means that hundreds of members are in a position to carry out new attacks, the report says:

"This is an organization that not only can survive the loss of a senior leader, it is also one that has trained so many people over decades that it retains a capacity across the region to engage in acts of violence through small groups even without central direction."

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