Hambali: Mastermind of Terror
As the questioning of Hambali continued, more details relating to his intended targets came to light. CIA and FBI interrogators learned that the two hotels that had been selected for attack were the JW Marriott on Sukhumvit Road and the Conrad Hotel on Wireless Road. Both are among more than 16 Bangkok hotels reserved for the 21 world leaders who would be attending the APEC summit.
Taking the information seriously, interrogators recommended that security at both locations be increased and also passed the information onto the Thai authorities. As a result an investigation was launched to track down the two cells that Hambali said had been formed specifically for those attacks.
Another target revealed during the interrogation was the Bangkok International Airport with international flights to the United States the most favored targets.
According to one newspaper report, security experts have already raised concerns about the vulnerability of Don Muang Airport citing the ease of pedestrian and vehicular access to the main terminal and tarmac areas via an adjoining public golf course.
Paul Quaglia, a former CIA officer in Bangkok, told reporters from the New York Times that the information gleaned from Hambali had indicated that "security concerns in Thailand were of a greater dimension than previously thought." He added that analysts had wrongly assumed that al-Qaeda was "using Thailand mainly as a place for rest and recreation, transit and obtaining false documents."
Although Hambali has been forthcoming with information that has led to additional arrests, intelligence analysts believe that it is unlikely Jemaah Islamiah will suffer any major setback from his arrest or any other actions against its members since, despite the short-term damage to the organization's "operational potential," the group's regional spread "remains intact," with a healthy network stretching across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Analysts believe that smaller cells might also exist in Cambodia and Vietnam.
Other intelligence analysts believe that the arrest of Hambali and close to 100 of JI's members has "placed the organization and its pursuit of these goals under significant operational pressure."
With three of the most senior JI officials gone, they maintain the group lacks the "charismatic or religious authority needed to fill the gap in its leadership."
They also cite evidence that "ideological and operational divisions have recently opened up within JI and the absence of a strong leadership core could see these divisions widen, a development that would undermine JI's ability to co-ordinate across the region."
Despite the information gleaned from Hambali there is still no accurate data on the exact number of members in JI's regional network. Rough estimates range from several hundred to several thousand with the majority said to be located within Indonesia.
Without proper leadership analysts believe that JI will be almost incapable of carrying out an attack against any "high value targets" such as a government offices or foreign embassies although they do concede that there is still the risk of individual cells hitting 'soft' targets like bars and nightclubs making the threat of another Bali-style bombing quite possible.
Added to this threat there is also the possibility that other highly skilled JI operatives will take over where Hambali left off. Three men in particular who recently escaped from a Philippines jail are still at large and, according to CIA sources, more than capable of "co-coordinating terrorist attacks, if not assuming a leadership role."
Analysts have also speculated what complications Hambali's arrest have created within al-Qaeda as he appeared to have been their principle operative in the Southeast Asian region and the main line of communication between the two organizations.