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U.S. Puts Bounty on Bomb Maker

A $10-million reward is offered for the capture of an Indonesian said to be working with the head of a Philippine militant group.

October 18, 2005|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — The United States is seeking to break up an alliance between two extremist Muslim groups, offering a $10-million reward for the capture of an Indonesian bomb maker who allegedly helped carry out Southeast Asia's two deadliest terrorist attacks.

The reward offered for Dulmatin, a top operative of the Jemaah Islamiah network, places him among America's most-wanted terrorism suspects. Only the $25-million rewards offered for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi, who heads a group called Al Qaeda in Iraq, are larger.

Authorities say that Dulmatin, also known as Joko Pitono, has joined forces with Khadafi Abubakar Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, a Philippine group best known for its high-profile kidnapping of foreigners from tourist resorts. The two men are operating together on the rugged island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, authorities say.

Authorities say Dulmatin helped carry out two deadly terrorist attacks: the October 2002 suicide bombing of nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali, which killed 202 people, and the February 2004 bombing of a ferry near Manila, which killed at least 118.

Dulmatin, 35, is described by officials as an electronics specialist skilled in making detonating devices that can be triggered by cellphone. He has formed a close personal relationship with Janjalani and is taking a leadership role in organizing terrorist activities for both groups in the southern Philippines, they say.

Authorities also say Dulmatin is teaching advanced bomb-making techniques to members of Abu Sayyaf, elevating the technical skills of a group once portrayed by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as a gang of "bandits."

Dulmatin, said to be a "genius" by his junior high school teachers, trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Both Southeast Asian groups once had close ties to the Al Qaeda network, but these have diminished with the arrests and deaths of leaders of the three groups.

"It's difficult to find people and capture them, and we understand it takes time," said Paul Jones, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. "But we are confident he will be captured and brought to justice, and we think this rewards program is a really important incentive to help make that happen."

Some officials worry that under Dulmatin's influence, it may only be a matter of time before militants in the Philippines begin using suicide bombers, as they have in Indonesia for the last three years.

Philippine security forces are in a heightened state of alert in Manila, where the two groups, working separately and together, have bombed buses, malls, commuter trains and other civilian targets.

Dulmatin had received relatively little public attention until early this month, when the U.S. announced its reward, the same amount offered for the capture of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the ousted Taliban leader in Afghanistan.

Indonesian investigators believe that Dulmatin helped Azahari Husin, a Malaysian known as the "Demolition Man," put together a massive vehicle bomb used in the 2002 Bali nightclub attacks. Authorities say Dulmatin also worked closely with Azahari on three other lethal bombings that targeted the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia in August 2000, Christian churches on Christmas Eve 2000 and the JW Marriott hotel in August 2003.

In Indonesia, police have launched a massive manhunt for Azahari and another Malaysian, Noordin Mohammed Top, who are believed to have organized the triple-suicide bombing this month of three restaurants on Bali that killed 23 people, including the bombers.

In the Philippines, authorities believe Dulmatin helped rig a bomb inside a TV set that was carried aboard the ferry near Manila as baggage. The bomb exploded when the vessel was an hour from the Philippine capital, causing the ferry to sink with more than 900 people on board.

The blast was not identified as a terrorist bombing until months later. Authorities now believe it was a joint operation by members of Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf. Police say at least one suspect arrested in the ferry attack was an Abu Sayyaf member who received training from Jemaah Islamiah.

Authorities also believe that the two groups collaborated on the Valentine's Day bombing this year of a bus, a shopping mall and a bus terminal in Manila and the southern Philippines, killing seven.

In addition to the reward for Dulmatin, the U.S. has offered $1 million for Umar Patek, an Indonesian wanted in the 2002 Bali bombings who is allegedly working with Dulmatin in the Philippines. The U.S. previously offered $5 million each for Janjalani and two other Abu Sayyaf leaders.

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