- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

The United States wants to try Indonesia’s most prominent terrorist in connection with the September 11 attacks, indicating for the first time that the trail from those atrocities leads beyond the Middle East and Afghanistan into Southeast Asia.

Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, is the suspected chief strategist of the radical Islamist organization Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been blamed for deadly terrorist attacks including the Bali bombings that killed 202 persons, and the Marriott Hotel blast in Jakarta that left 12 dead.

U.S. officials now have custody of Hambali, who has been identified as the only member of al Qaeda’s military council from Southeast Asia, and have been interrogating him at an undisclosed location since his arrest in Thailand in mid-August.

Indonesian authorities say they are also eager for access to the man, believing he has information that will help them forestall future attacks.

A U.S. official who follows Indonesia closely said the Indonesian government is receiving intelligence from the Hambali debriefings but would not say whether he would be handed over to that country.

“We want to try him for September 11,” the official said, linking JI with the attacks on the United States carried out by Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political and security affairs, said in Washington late last week that Hambali “is the one man who knows more than any other on the terrorist cells throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia.”

“We believe very much that Hambali and other figures have prepared for another strike in Indonesia and possibly in Southeast Asia in general so we have to anticipate, to prevent that kind of attack to happen,” the minister said at a U.S.-Indonesia Society dinner Friday evening.

“Our most important priority now is making sure that we have access to whatever information that can be possibly extracted from Hambali, so that we can prevent any terrorist attacks that he was possibly planning,” Mr. Yudhoyono said.

The U.S. official said Hambali was carrying a Spanish passport when he was captured.

Spanish High Court Judge Baltasar Garzon declared in a ruling last week that Spain had served as a “resting, preparation, doctrinizing” base for al Qaeda.

Yesterday, Judge Garzon ordered five men to prison pending formal charges on suspicion they formed part of a Spanish cell linked to al Qaeda, according to court documents cited by Reuters news agency.

One of the five, Sadeq Merizak, of Moroccan origin, is considered by authorities to be a highly trained cadre capable of a major suicide attack.

The five men were arrested on Thursday, one day after the same judge formally charged 35 others including bin Laden himself and a journalist for Arab TV network Al Jazeera with belonging to a terrorist group.

Mr. Yudhoyono said he has had “very productive” talks with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and FBI director Robert S. Mueller III. He added that pending Indonesia’s possible questioning of Hambali, it had submitted a list of questions for him to answer.

Many JI cadres have gone through Indonesia’s system of Muslim boarding schools, or pesantrens, a small number of which preach the jihadist teachings the group follows. Indonesia has a largely moderate Muslim population.

But Mr. Yudhoyono rejected the notion of closing down the pesantrens. “We have to admit there are elements of radicalism in some parts of Indonesian society, including some pesantrens,” he said. “But if a knife is used wrongly, there is no need to close the factory of knives.”

Instead, he suggested the country introduce national educational norms that would not breed radical Islamist views.

The U.S. official said the Indonesians are “walking a very fine line between being responsive on the war on terror and not offending the Muslims.”

Indonesia is to hold its first direct presidential election next year, the official said, and the government is anxious not to offend Muslim voters before then.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, a key player in the international fight against terrorism, will address the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow.

Mrs. Megawati also will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and attend a conference of Islamic heads of state led by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, before leaving New York for a state visit to Tunisia and Libya.

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