- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 16, 2007

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The head of Southeast Asia’s most feared terrorist group was arrested along with his military chief, police said yesterday, claiming a breakthrough in the fight against extremists in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Authorities warned, however, that Jemaah Islamiyah — blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings and other attacks — and breakaway factions could still carry out strikes against Western and Christian interests.

Zarkasih, identified for the first time as the group’s overall leader, was captured June 9 on Indonesia’s main island of Java, hours after anti-terror police closed in on militant chief Abu Dujana, said Brig. Gen. Suryadarma Salim.

Police initially said Wednesday that Dujana was Jemaah Islamiyah’s main leader. However, following two days of intensive interrogation, they said Zarkasih held that post.

Like other top Jemaah Islamiyah members, Zarkasih went by several aliases and underwent military training in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, where he learned bomb making and arms handling.

“I became the emergency head … in 2005,” Zarkasih, 45, said in a videotape shown to reporters, adding that the selection came during a police crackdown that has crippled the organization in recent years.

In another videotape, Dujana described himself as “head of the military wing” of Jemaah Islamiyah since 2005.

Jemaah Islamiyah wants to create an Islamic state — violently if necessary — across much of Southeast Asia. Its members have long been involved in attacks on minority Christians in eastern Indonesia and fueled an insurgency in the southern Philippines.

A splinter group headed by Malaysian fugitive Noordin Top has been blamed for the 2002 bombings on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali; the 2003 and 2004 attacks on the J.W. Marriott Hotel and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta; and the 2005 triple-suicide bombings at restaurants in Bali.

The suicide bombings — some of which police say were carried out with funds and direction from al Qaeda — together killed at least 240 persons, mostly Western tourists.

Police said Dujana and Zarkasih would be charged with violating anti-terrorism laws in connection with a haul of firearms and explosives seized in central Java earlier this year.

Aided by U.S. and Australian funds and expertise, anti-terrorism police have arrested about 300 militants in recent years, of which 200 have been convicted. Five received death sentences and many others have been given lengthy prison terms.

Among those previously arrested were Abu Rusdan and Abu Bakar Bashir, both of whom police and former militants have said led Jemaah Islamiyah in the early 2000s.

Bashir was found guilty of giving his approval to the 2002 Bali attacks, but his conviction was overturned after he spent more than three years in jail. Rusdan served 2½ years for sheltering a known terrorist.

Both are free and have returned to preaching an uncompromising brand of Islam.

Top, who is considered the country’s most dangerous militant, remains at large. He is accused of playing a direct role in all of the major suicide bombings in Indonesia in the past five years.

Indonesia’s top detective, Lt. Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri, said the hunt for other terrorist suspects was continuing on Java and Sulawesi islands, where the network was trying to rebuild.

Jemaah Islamiyah hasn’t been destroyed,” he said about claims they continue to collect guns, ammunition and explosives. “They are still recruiting people and holding military training” in the southern Philippines, he said.

Indonesia has not made it a crime to belong to the group, which was formed in Malaysia in the late 1990s.

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