Hambali: Mastermind of Terror
With Hambali and several of his key henchmen in custody, authorities in Southeast Asia could be forgiven for dropping their guard a little. However, one important factor remains.
Just two weeks before the bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, senior Indonesian police officers gave a briefing to their officers. They told their men that they had received intelligence to suggest that the city faced an "imminent bomb attack by Islamic extremists." The real problem was that even though they had the information, there was little they could or would do to prevent the attack.
One officer summed up the situation when he stated: "Steps were taken to go on high alert, leave was canceled; patrols in the target areas were increased, and the hunt for JI operatives in the capital was intensified. But in a city like Jakarta — 20 million people spread out over hundreds of square kilometers — there's not much else you can do."
The rest, as they say, is history. Unable to act in time the attack went ahead as planned with devastating results. A car bomb exploded outside of the Marriott, killing 12 and wounding 150. Within days, police had the bomber in custody but it was too late.
Mick Keelty, head of the Australian Federal Police describes the authorities efforts against the threat of JI in South East Asia as "having awakened a sleeping giant."
A later report in Time Asia magazine asserted that Senior Indonesian police were "in possession of information about possible JI strikes in the days before the attack."
One source close to the investigation told a Time reporter that "interrogations of four JI suspects arrested in a previous raid yielded specific information that the Grand Hyatt, Mulia and the Marriott were possible hotel targets. Also mentioned were the Citraland and Kelapa Gading malls in Jakarta, along with various sites used by Christian congregations."
A senior police spokesperson later admitted that such information had been received and as a result security in and around the specified locations was increased. The hotel management however insists that they were never informed of the threat and no changes were ever made to the hotel's security arrangements.
The information that the authorities had received was from four JI members who had been picked up with two carloads of bomb making materials in their possession which one of the men admitted to having bought into Jakarta.
Indonesian police also arrested a suspected JI operative in Sumatra in April. The man named Rusdi confessed to delivering 300 kilograms of explosives to Azahari bin Husin and Nurdin Mohammed Top, two senior JI bomb makers. Police now believe that it was Azahari who designed and built the main bomb responsible for the destruction of the Sari Club in Bali. To this date both men have eluded capture and their whereabouts are unknown.
Azahari, a Malaysian geophysicist is known as JI's principle bomb maker and trainer, having written a training manual on the subject. One investigator stated: "He's an expert at surveying locations and designing bombs for specific targets."
Having Hambali in custody and effectively out of the way is one thing but with bomb makers like Azahari and Rohman al-Ghozi still at large most of Southeast Asia and particularly Indonesia may soon be subjected to a renewed wave of violence.
The final word belongs to an eye witness to the Marriot bombing in Jakarta who said: "You can die anytime and anywhere, it's impossible to avoid public places all the time if you want to carry on doing business."