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More Arrests Made in Bali Bombing - 2002-12-03


Police in Indonesia have made dozens of arrests related to the deadly October 12 terrorist attack in Bali including two key suspects. The police say the two men have confessed, and the lawyer for one of them says his client is prepared for the death penalty. But official statements about the plot and the roles of the suspects are conflicting. Police made their first big breakthrough in the Bali bomb investigation about three weeks after the blast, with the arrest of a suspect named Amrozi. A 40-year-old car mechanic, Mr. Amrozi was arrested in his tiny village of Tenggulun in East Java. "Actually he is a very intelligent man," says Police General Made Pastika, head of the investigation. "As an example, because there is no signal for the cellular phone in his village, he built antennas in order to communicate with other people with his group so you can imagine, he is smart."

General Pastika says Mr. Amrozi first helped plan attacks against American interests in Indonesia during two meetings in August in the town of Solo. At the time, Mr. Amrozi did not know details of the plan, but he bought the chemicals and the white Mitsubishi van used in the bombing, which he also drove to Bali. The van exploded outside of a crowded bar filled with Western tourists and killed nearly 200 people.

The man who issued the orders to Mr. Amrozi was Imam Samudra, who was arrested last month. Both men have confessed, and Mr. Samudra's lawyer says his client is prepared to die for what he did. Officials say the confessions of Mr. Amrozi and Mr. Samudra bring an international angle to the investigation.

Like many young Indonesian men, Mr. Amrozi and Mr. Samudra went to Malaysia in search of work and both became students of Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.

The governments of Singapore and Malaysia say Mr. Bashir is the spiritual chief of Jemaah Islamiyah a militant group founded to create an Islamic state spanning Southeast Asia. Those governments say JI plotted at least two earlier unsuccessful attacks on Western targets in Southeast Asia. Mr. Bashir also lives in the Indonesian town of Solo the same town where Mr. Amrozi and Mr. Samudra held meetings to plan the Bali bombing.

Despite circumstantial evidence pointing to him, only one Indonesian official has linked JI and Mr. Bashir to the Bali bombing Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil. Mr. Matori says there is no way the blast could have taken place without Mr. Bashir's knowledge.

Other Indonesian officials have been reluctant to admit that JI operates on Indonesian soil at all, suggesting instead that the group is confined to Malaysia. And no one has implicated Mr. Bashir directly in the blast.

Muchyar Yara is with Indonesia's National Intelligence agency. He says JI has no clear structure and lacks a hierarchy with clear lines of command. It is possible, he says, that any member could carry out the bombing without involving the group's founders. "Maybe in the Bali bombing, maybe there is a member of JI that has involvement. But we think that JI as an organization [did] not know about that, officially as an organization," he says. "Maybe personally they know. But as an organization maybe they not have any relation."

Mr. Bashir is now in detention, suspected of being involved in a different terrorist incident a series of bombings across the country on Christmas Eve 2000. "We have evidence of the connection between him and the last bombing but this Bali bombing we don't have yet the significant evidence," says General Pastika. "Except that most of the perpetrators have seen and heard his teaching."

The question of Mr. Bashir's possible involvement in the Bali bombing remains on hold as police follow other leads. One suspect is one of Mr. Amrozi's brothers Ali Ghufron, also known as Muklas.

For years, the chief al-Qaida operative in Southeast Asia was thought to be an Indonesian named Riduan Isamuddin also known as Hambali. Hambali is suspected of other bomb attacks in Indonesia, of taking part in JI plots thwarted by Singapore and Malaysia, and of helping men who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Mr. Muchyar says Indonesian and regional intelligence agencies have new information. "We have information that Muklas now acting and replacing Hambali's position," he says. "That means that now he becomes the coordinator for the al-Qaida network in South East Asia."

Mr. Muchyar says so far the possibility that al-Qaida is involved in the Bali blast is just a theory but the methods the bombers used are similar to those of al-Qaida. "They make a contact to Muklas, as a chief coordinator in the region. And that is possible that Muklas will contact to Imam Samudra to establish a group of cells who work on the Bali bomb."

Mr. Muklas and Mr. Hambali remain at large. Officials say that is one reason they are concerned that attacks like the Bali bombing could take place again.

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