- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

From combined dispatches
ULU TIRAM, Malaysia For the villagers who lived nearby, the parents and children at the Luqmanul Hakiem religious school were outsiders.
Some came from neighboring Singapore and Indonesia, others from elsewhere in Malaysia.
They all had one thing in common a desire to follow a purer form of Islam.
But some, say police, shared something more. They took a secret oath of allegiance to Jemaah Islamiyah, the shadowy Southeast Asian militant network blamed for last October's Bali bomb blasts.
"I suspected something was not right at that school," village chieftain Saad Shamin said in Sungai Redan, his village on the other side of a hill from the school in the southern Malaysian state of Johor.
The madrassa, or school, was shut down after a police raid.
This week, Indonesian police named another Malaysian as a key suspect in the Bali bombing and said four persons arrested in west Java in November were would-be suicide bombers.
Indonesia's Bali-bombing chief investigator, Gen. I Made Mangku Pastika, told a regional security meeting in Jakarta on Monday that the man, Zulkifli Marzuki, attended a meeting in Bangkok last February.
Gen. Pastika said the meeting was attended by leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah, including a top operative called Hambali, and discussed plans to set off bombs in Singapore and Malaysia. He described Mr. Zulkifli as a secretary with Jemaah Islamiyah.
Three other Malaysians Noordin Mohammad Top, Wan Min bin Wan Mat, and Dr. Azahari Nusim were named earlier as suspects in the Oct. 12 Bali bombing. Gen. Pastika said they also attended the Bangkok meeting.
Mr. Wan Min is being detained in Malaysia, but the other two Malaysians are still at large.
More than 190 people were killed in two blasts that ripped through nightspots in Bali's Kuta district.
"It has been recognized that there is a relation between the Bali blast perpetrators and the Jemaah Islamiyah network," Gen. Pastika said at Monday's security meeting. He said Mukhlas, a key Bali bomb suspect arrested Dec. 3, was a Jemaah Islamiyah leader covering Singapore and Malaysia.
Investigators believe Mukhlas took over from Hambali as regional chief of the terrorist network.
Gen. Pastika also said four men nabbed in Banten province in western Java, following the arrest of suspected bombing field commander Imam Samudra in November, had been recruited as would-be suicide bombers. He named the recruiter as Heri Hafidin, still at large, and added that a smaller blast that exploded at Paddy's Bar in Bali a few seconds before the devastating one at the Sari Club might have been a suicide attack.
Gen. Pastika later told reporters that 30 persons have been arrested in connection with the Bali bombing. They include five main suspects, four would-be suicide bombers, and 21 persons who assisted the five. Indonesian officials have said some could go on trial in Bali as soon as next month.
Here in Ulu Tiram, villagers who work in the nearby plantations and factories are flabbergasted at the mention of one familiar name after another in media reports of Southeast Asia's war on terrorism.
Police investigating the Bali bombings which killed almost 200 people, most of them Western tourists, including 88 Australians say three of the six Indonesian suspects had a link with the school.
The villagers say people from the school, which was also just a few miles from one of Malaysia's biggest army camps, didn't mix much.
"I didn't suspect anything. They were just boys coming in here to get their sweets after Friday prayers. It was all very innocent," said Mohammad Rosman, the village shopkeeper.
"In hindsight, I should have been suspicious because I noticed the way they prayed was a bit foreign, but it came as a shock when I read in the papers about the teachers' arrest," he said, referring to detentions after the school was closed.
Villagers recall the students and their teachers as being polite and devout. The headman saw it as a school fostering anti-government sentiment, not militants dreaming of an Islamic state across the region.
Set at the end of an isolated road through a palm-oil estate, the school was established a decade ago by Indonesian preacher Abdullah Sungkar the man police credit with secretly founding and leading Jemaah Islamiyah until his death in 1999.
Police say Abu Bakar Bashir took over leadership of the network. Mr. Bashir, who is under arrest in Jakarta for conspiracy to bomb churches and assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri before she took office in 2001, denies any link with the network or wrongdoing of any kind.
Both Abdullah and Mr. Bashir fled to Malaysia in the mid-1980s to escape the police of Gen. Suharto, then Indonesia's dictator, after being linked with unrest in central Java. They returned home after the dictator's fall in 1998.
During their years in Malaysia, police say Abdullah based himself in Johor, and Mr. Bashir preached around Klang, a west coast port less than an hour's drive from the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
With a million or more migrant Indonesians on Malaysia's west coast, the preachers found a small, dedicated following. At its peak in the mid-1990s, villagers say there were 500 pupils attending Luqmanul Hakiem madrassah.
Today, there are only lizards and insects in the student dormitories. The gates are padlocked. No one prays at the school's mosque.
When Singapore announced in late 2001 it had cracked a cell planning attacks on U.S. targets, police learned several members of the cell sent their children to the school. Police swooped days later, arresting the principal, among others, but they say several suspected Jemaah Islamiyah operatives had already fled the country.
Malaysian police are still hunting several local militants. Academics from a nearby university appear on wanted lists and police say at least one is a skilled bombmaker who has toured conflict zones in Afghanistan and the southern Philippines.

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