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JAKARTA - The lively tinkle of the grand piano, the sound of the bass, and the beat of the drums by the Bill Heid Trio generated a warm atmosphere at the official residence of the Ambassador of the United States of America, Ralph L. Boyce, on Jalan Taman Suropati, Jakarta, on September 19. The performance of the famous jazz group—which often graces the stage of the John F. Kennedy Center, a prestigious cultural showplace in Washington—mesmerized the American diplomats. They were carried away by the beat of the music, tapped their feet, and sipped champagne. Boyce, no mean drummer and guitarist himself, was all smiles as he jammed with the band.
The jazz party lasted two hours and was in total contrast to the tension that enveloped them two weeks ago. At that time, the US administration planned to announce a list of the terrorists who are the world's enemies, on the same day they commemorated the first anniversary of the double tragedy of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington. However, what made them apprehensive was an important order from the White House, resulting in a three-day closure of the embassy. Vice President Hamzah Haz and Coordinating Minister for Political & Security Affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, regretted the one-sided attitude that tarnished Jakarta's image.
Boyce also had to cancel several important events. One of them was the commemoration of the September 11 tragedy at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. Besides the embassy, its consulate general in Surabaya was also closed. The Americans referred to the situation as "orange" status or full alert. The ambassador asked the police to increase security and make available tanks to provide protection at the two missions. It was the first time that the diplomatic offices had been padlocked on the grounds of avoiding terrorist attacks hotly rumored to take place.
Who was behind the attacks? No one at the embassy is willing to confirm. However, the panic was reportedly triggered by the confession of a man who was seized at a mosque in Bogor at the beginning of June. He now occupies a special cell in Bagram, an American military base located 47 kilometers north of Kabul, Afghanistan. He is Omar Al-Faruq, 31, whose real name is Mahmud bin Ahmad Assegaf; also known as Al-Faruq Al-Kuwaity, suspected of being the linchpin of the Al Qaeda network in Southeast Asia and a key deputy of the feared Osama bin Laden.
If the information from US intelligence is indeed true, how terrifying is this man who lives in Cijeruk, Bogor? After three months of interrogation, interspersed with psychological pressure and sleep deprivation, Al-Faruq reportedly confessed that on September 9 he was instructed by his patron to mount huge attacks on various important areas owned by the US in Indonesia and a number of countries in Southeast Asia. In a document published by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which was later printed by leading American magazine Time, the simultaneous attacks were plotted to take place exactly one year after the September 11 tragedy.
The attack on Ambassador Boyce's office was intended to be massive. It didn't matter that Al-Faruq had been arrested. The show had to go on. How? By sending trucks full of explosives crashing into the embassy. After the first blast there would have been a huge hole, followed by the next truck ready to totally destroy the offices on Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat. The information turned out to be a hoax. But they didn't take the threat lightly. "Such a terrible scenario could actually play out," said one diplomat. "We've seen the impact of their worst attacks in New York."
The document wasn't the only evidence. The Americans also received information from many sources, including foreign intelligence agencies. It is suspected that Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency (BIN) also supplied material. (BIN agents arrested Al-Faruq in Bogor.) According to the secret documents, Al-Faruq reportedly intended to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri with a bomb carried by an operative, Taufik bin Abdul Halim, alias Dani. But the bomb exploded prematurely in the Senen Atrium on 1 August 2001. Dani denies the charge. "We haven't uncovered any ties between Dani and Al-Faruq," said Police Adj. Chief Comr. Carlo B. Tewu, head of the Jakarta Police's antiterrorism unit.
Tewu said that Taufik Abdul Halim mentioned that his boss was Hambali, an Indonesian citizen from Cianjur, West Java, who had been living in Malaysia for a long time. Hambali was said to be a leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah Islamic group in Malaysia. His tracks could also be traced in the spate of Christmas bombings in Jakarta and Bandung on 24 December 2000. Taufik, a native of Selangor, Malaysia, entered Ambon via Nunukan, Kalimantan. In conflict-torn Ambon, he joined the Muslim group at war with Christians in the Moluccas.
From Ambon, Taufik entered Jakarta via Surabaya. While here, he joined the Ambonese group living on Jalan Malaka, in Klender, East Jakarta. Taufik planned to blow up a bus carrying Ambonese Christian leaders who were holding a meeting on one of the floors in the Senen Atrium complex that August 1. That scenario makes more sense than a far-fetched plot to kill Megawati. After some analysis, most police tended to conclude that the distance between Senen Atrium and the PDI-P offices in Pecenongan where Megawati held a party meeting, was too far for there to be any link.
But Al-Faruq's confession was a blow to Jakarta. He was said to have confessed that he had a close relationship with Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, leader of the Ngruki Islamic boarding school in Solo, who is also a respected elder of the Jemaah Islamiyah. Agus Dwikarna—arrested in Manila for possession of explosives and sentenced to 10 years in prison—was also part of his network. Al-Faruq claimed that Ba'asyir was the mastermind behind the bombing of the Istiqlal Mosque in 1999, and that Al Qaeda was behind the series of Christmas bombings in 2000. However, Ba'asyir claims that he doesn't know Al-Faruq (see Interview).
This news hit the government like a bombshell: Megawati immediately called a special meeting with five officials in charge of security, including BIN head A.M. Hendropriyono on September 19. Coordinating Minister for Political & Security Affairs, Yudhoyono, said that the two-and-a-half-hour meeting was focused specifically on the CIA information and the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Indonesia. Important messages from US President George W. Bush had also arrived, via Karen Brooks, a former National Security Agency officer, two days previously, who also had a confidential meeting with Megawati. "The meeting was just between the two of them and was secret; the two of them are long-time friends," said a source in the palace.
Al-Faruq, meanwhile, had taken on a special significance. The process of his arrest started with a discovery made by police in the Philippines. At the beginning of May, traces on Agus Dwikarna's cell phone calls found that he often contacted a cell phone number in the Bogor area. Based on that information, BIN traced the contacts made by that number, which turned out to belong to Mahmud bin Ahmad Assegaf, Al-Faruq's real name. And then, in the same month, by moving swiftly and secretly, BIN, immigration officials and police pounced on Mahmud.
But a source in the police told a different story. The operation to catch Al-Faruq was reportedly carried out without involving the police and was handled directly by BIN and immigration officials. The police intelligence officer said that the arrest was led directly by Special Forces (Kopassus) Maj. Andika, who is, coincidentally, Hendropriyono's son-in-law. Al-Faruq was arrested ostensibly for immigration violations. In addition to holding a forged passport, he was once arrested at the South Sulawesi immigration office for the same reason. Finally, at his own request, Al-Faruq was extradited to Malaysia.
Strangely, however, he had never set foot there. According to a TEMPO source close to BIN, the Indonesian intelligence force deliberately affixed a Malaysian arrival stamp to Al-Faruq's passport. He was immediately picked up by a US military aircraft that had been on standby at the Halim Perdanakusumah airport to fly him to Afghanistan. "The proof on the passport will show that Al-Faruq was caught in Malaysia," said the source. In other words, it was intentionally arranged so that it had nothing to do with Indonesia.
Before handing Al-Faruq over to the Americans, BIN officials held their own interrogations. Faruq mentioned his boss, Abu Daud, as a German businessman of Arab descent, living in the Pulomas area in East Jakarta. However, when the police raided the house, it was empty. After further tracking, Abu Daud was discovered to have moved to a rented house in the Pasar Minggu area of South Jakarta, at a lease of US$14,000 (Rp125 million) a year. On September 16, Abu Daud, whose real name is Seyam Reda as his German passport says, was detained by the police, and then held at National Police Headquarters.
Seyam didn't resist arrest but denied being the Abu Daud on the police's wanted list. "He claimed to be a correspondent for the Al Jazeera TV station," a police source told TEMPO, referring to the Qatar-based satellite channel that has broadcast interviews and footage of Osama bin Laden on several occasions. After comparing pictures, police determined that Seyam Reda wasn't Abu Daud, said senior police spokesman Inspector General Saleh Saaf, when TEMPO spoke with him at his office. "Up to now he's charged with violating immigration law by overstaying his visa in Indonesia."
At first, the evidence discovered was somewhat important. There were a number of videocassettes of military exercises in the Poso and Ambon jungles, as well as evidence of several money transfers to a number of foundations. "I won't mention the names of the foundations because all of them are being investigated," said a source close to BIN. From the pictures in the videos, it's likely that the armed militia's exercises were in conflict areas. But it can't be established yet whether they were in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, or even in the Cijeruk area, which was once used by the Nusantara Muslim Mujahidin Force for exercises.
The videocassette containing the military exercises in Poso is important to BIN officials. Al-Faruq was reportedly clearly visible training a number of youths. The picture in Ambon also had his stamp on it. He was seen giving out orders. The tapes were specially made to be sent to a sponsor group that had masterminded the conflict. A CIA source said that the funds were obtained from a branch of the Al-Haramain Muslim foundation, with its head office in Saudi Arabia. "The video has been shown to members of House Commission I, a number of government officials, and President Megawati," said a source.
BIN officials say privately that there's no proof of a connection between the Al-Faruq network and Ba'asyir. Further, sources say, since the beginning of this year the CIA has supplied dozens of names of foreigners they suspect as being part of Al Qaeda who are in Indonesia. However, the CIA may be wrong and there may not be that many. A diplomat in Washington said that there were at least 20 people and there could be more. The radical Islamic movement in Indonesia does indeed have its roots in history. It all started with the Darul Islam rebellion in the 1940s until the proclamation of the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) by Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwiryo in 1949. From pioneering figures such as Kartosuwiryo and Kahar Muzakar came their successors, including Ba'asyir and others from the younger generation. President Suharto's government considered them enemies.
A good number of them were brought to trial on subversion charges. Ba'asyir and the late Abdullah Sungkar suffered that fate. That is why they went to Malaysia in 1985 and established groups there. While in Malaysia, Ba'asyir and Sungkar often made recommendations to the youths to go on jihad to Afghanistan, to join the Mujahideen troops against the communist Soviet Union. Since that period in Malaysia the Ba'asyir network apparently spread all over the world.
During Suharto's regime, the intelligence agency at that time, Bakin, also conducted operations within Muslim groups. According to historical notes, there is evidence that the militant Muslim groups were used by the intelligence agencies for their own interests. They became increasingly radical due to the pressure exerted by the government. That was the conclusion reached by a non-profit study institution, the International Crisis Group, in its report Al Qaeda in Southeast Asia: the Case of the "Ngruki Network" in Indonesia. Basically, they recommend against being too hasty in concluding that the "Ngruki Network" is the same as Al Qaeda.
The government is proceeding cautiously. Yudhoyono says there is no proof yet of a connection between the Al Qaeda network and terrorist activities in Indonesia. "It's too early to say whether there is or there isn't," he says. Information connecting Ba'asyir and Al Qaeda continues to be followed up on. "However, as long as there's no proof, the government will not take any action against Ba'asyir." Like a veil, the Al Qaeda network in Southeast Asia remains largely hidden. And it will take more than secret CIA documents to lift that veil.

Posted in General @ 27 September 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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