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Bounty turns up heat on JI mystery man ASIAN CITIES - Southeast Asia's most wanted man is very similar to the terrorist groups he represents low profile, well travelled, little known and explosive. Dulmatin, now 35 and at the top of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) organisation, won notoriety last week when the US State Department's Rewards for Justice programme put a $10-million bounty on information leading to his capture or death.

Only al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, based in Iraq, rate higher bounties, of $25 million. And better known regional terrorists like the Malaysians Azahari "Demolition Man" bin Husin and Noordin "Moneyman" Mohammed Top, suspected of overseeing both the first and second Bali bombings have not even made it onto the posters of the US-sponsored programme.

On the right an image of Dulmatin.
On the right an image of Dulmatin.
"That's the point, really," a US Embassy official told the Bangkok Post. "Hardly anyone knows Dulmatin, and this reward should boost the public awareness of a terrorist who may be the most dangerous of them all" in the region. While JI has undergone major setbacks and internal shakeups since police began crackdowns, arrests and official harassment after the first Bali bombing on Oct 12, 2002, its controllers and chief operatives are still the veterans recruited by Abu Bakar Bashir and other leaders in the 1980s and 90s.

Dulmatin has his own nickname in the Indonesian and Malaysian media 'Genius' but to aid in his travels he has aliases: Joko Pitoyo, Joker Pitono, Abdul Matin, Piton, Muktarmar, Djoko and Noval, presumably others. Dulmatin is now believed to have largely taken over the duties once assigned to Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali, who was head of JI's shura - the policy making body which planned strategy - until his flight and arrest in Ayutthaya in early August 2003. It is unclear whether the formal JI structure including the shura remains in place.

The $10 million on Dulmatin's head matches the Hambali bounty, which the US paid to the Thai authorities who helped to arrest him. US officials on the weekend revealed that Isamuddin has helped US authorities get to the bottom of several terrorist plots and organisations. He was reportedly in charge of a 2002 plan to hijack airplanes and fly them into targets on the west coast of the United States, using JI recruits, something no one realised when the plan was broken up. Dulmatin is a native Javanese, apparently with at least some Arabic heritage. He has risen to the top of JI by ability as well as coincidence, and now sets policy for his recruiter, former teacher and mentor, Azahari.

Azahari, who has a doctorate in engineering from the University of Reading, England, apparently discovered Dulmatin around the time the Indonesian got tired of selling cars and began to turn to extremist Islam. He taught the younger man a great deal of electronics and bomb-making. So did the technicians of al-Qaeda. Dulmatin travelled to Afghanistan as a teenager to fight in the jihad against the Russians. Almost nothing is known of this period, and most terrorism experts in Southeast Asia believe Dulmatin saw no combat.

He did, however, absorb English, terrorist tactics and Islamist beliefs. And when he returned to Indonesia, he became a regular at Bashir's Al Mukmin school in Ngruki, Solo, the alma mater of almost every Southeast Asian terrorist. He oversaw the construction of the main car bomb used in the 2002 Bali bombing, which killed 202 people, and Indonesian courts say he personally made the mobile phone call that set the bomb off at the front of Paddy's Bar.

By design or accident, up until that point Dulmatin was not well known even to the top anti-terrorism officials in Indonesia, and was entirely off the radar of foreign experts. Aggressive police work after the Bali bombing brought in almost all of those involved in the plot, and Dulmatin's role became better understood. Still, the main focus remained on prosecuting the main bombers apprehended - Amrozi, Mukhlas, Idris, Ali Imron and Imam Samudra - while implicating ideologue Bashir and chasing Hambali, who was well known as the head of JI's terrorist field operations.

Dulmatin's part in the Bali bombing was known by police within a week, but went to ground and he has been on the run since. Police, anti-terrorist forces and Interpol have learned he has travelled extensively within Indonesia and the Philippines, including to Manila. There are indications he has visited other countries. According to top police officials including chief Da'i Bachtiar, Azahari and Mohammed Top have remained in Indonesia, and personally arranged and carried out two big Jakarta bombings - the suicide car bomb at the J.W. Marriott Hotel which killed 11 Indonesians and a Dutch man in August 2003 and the drive-by suicide truck bomb outside the Australian embassy in September last year, which killed 10 Indonesians and wounded 100.

According to Philippines sources, Dulmatin had extensive contacts throughout the southern part of the country, where a number of groups have been in rebellion against the government for several decades. Dulmatin has reportedly infiltrated several bands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and radicalised them. Manila media reports last weekend said he was hiding in the far south, probably on the big island of Mindanao, with Khadaffy Janjalani, leader of the Philippines' most radical and murderous terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf.

That would be logical. Janjalani's late brother, the first Abu Sayyaf leader, also travelled to the Afghanistan jihad, and also was radicalised by the al-Qaeda gangs which grew in that conflict. Abu Sayyaf was formed in 1992 by the planning and money of bin Laden's brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Dulmatin's alliance that links JI with the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf is one of the most worrying aspects, although the group's terrorism has lately been aimed at Indonesia, the home base of the group.

Although Abu Sayyaf is an al-Qaeda creation, the MILF was long regarded as a non-radical insurgency in the Philippines, fighting against Manila for political control of the nation's southern islands. After Bali, when Dulmatin and several other Indonesians and Malaysians from JI fled to the Philippines, that changed.

MILF leaders tried to deny it for months, but Dulmatin managed to infiltrate their group, radicalise several of the insurgents' own gangs, and move all JI paramilitary training to the Philippines islands. Dulmatin and JI companion Umar Patek ($1 million bounty) were allegedly behind two major terrorist attacks in the Philippines - the 2003 bombing of the Davao International Airport which killed 19 and wounded 145 people, and the Sasa wharf bombing in Davao City which left dozens killed and wounded.

And this seems, along with Dulmatin's position in the Southeast Asian terrorist structure, to be a main reason for jacking up the pressure on Dulmatin with a huge reward offer - his success at infiltrating, exploiting and turning other insurgency movements into extremist gangs allied with the worldwide al-Qaeda ring. Authorities believe the suicide bombers who struck Bali on Oct 1 were trained in the Mindanao camps. "Southern Thailand is still a local insurgency, a local problem," said a foreign expert based in Bangkok. "We have to be extremely alert or JI and similar groups will worm their way in, and the South could suddenly be part of the world terrorist problem."

Posted in Terrorism @ 10 October 2005 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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