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White House Announces Arrest of Key al-Qaida Operative - 2003-08-14


President Bush says U.S. officials have arrested the suspected mastermind of last year's terrorist bombings in Bali, Indonesia and the recent hotel attack in Jakarta.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the arrest of Indonesian Islamic scholar Riduan bin Isamuddin is "another important victory in the global war on terrorism and a significant blow to the enemy."

The alleged terrorist leader known as Hambali is the 36-year-old head of the radical group Jemaah Islamiyah, which is linked to last year's nightclub bombings in Bali which killed 202 people. He is also a leading suspect in the recent Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta which killed 12 people and injured about 150.

Speaking to U.S. troops in California Thursday, President Bush said Hambali's arrest is a sign of the slow but sure progress in the fight against international terrorism.

"He is a known killer who is a close associate of September the 11th mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed," the president said. "Hambali was one of the world's most lethal terrorists who was suspected of planning major terrorist operations, including that which occurred in Bali, Indonesia and other recent attacks."

Mr. Bush says the arrest means Hambali is no longer a problem for those who he says "love freedom." The president said al-Qaida terrorists are still active are still recruiting and are still plotting against the American people.

But wherever they are, Mr. Bush says, U.S. forces will hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

U.S. officials say Hambali hosted a meeting in Malaysia between two of the hijackers responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

His group is believed responsible for bombings of Christian churches in Indonesia in 2000 which killed 18 people as well as a foiled plot to blow up 12 U.S. airlines over the Pacific Ocean in 1995.

He is currently wanted by law enforcement officials in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. Hambali, who is also known as the "Osama bin Laden of the East" is thought to be the intermediary between Jemaah Islamiyah and Mr. bin Laden's al-Qaida organization.

He is also accused of plotting attacks on Western embassies in Singapore last year and of fomenting Muslim-Christian violence on the Indonesian island of Maluku which has killed more than 5,000 people since 1999.

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