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Terrorism Suspect Hambali Planned Attacks on Western Embassies, Says Thai PM - 2003-08-22

Thailand's prime minister says the recently captured terrorism suspect Hambali was planning attacks on Western embassies in Bangkok.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says Hambali, who was captured in Thailand last week, was planning attacks on the U.S., Australian and Israeli embassies in Bangkok.

The prime minister said Friday that Mr. Hambali was not planning attacks on the October meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bangkok.

Last week, there were reports that Mr. Thaksin and other Thai officials had said the regional Islamic terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, or J.I., was planning attacks during the APEC summit. At least 21 heads of state are expected at the gathering, including President Bush.

Mr. Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, is believed to be the operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, which reportedly aims to establish a pan-Islamic state across parts of Southeast Asia.

The group is thought to be responsible for a series of deadly bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines, including last October's attack on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people. Its members also are suspected of setting off a car bomb at a Jakarta hotel earlier this month, killing 12 people.

Hambali, an Indonesian, was captured last week in central Thailand, and now is in U.S. custody in an undisclosed location.

He is suspected of being the al-Qaida terror network's chief operative in Southeast Asia, and U.S. authorities say he is linked to the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

The governments of Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Australia all want him extradited to face terrorist charges.

Mr. Thaksin also says it is possible some J.I. operatives are still hiding along the border between Thailand and Malaysia.

Rohan Gunaratna is an author and expert on al-Qaida. He says, even with the arrest of Mr. Hambali, J.I. is still a force to be reckoned with.

J.I. has significant terrorist support and operation sub-structure in some Southeast Asian countries, and Thailand is one such country.

Thailand has tightened border security since the arrest of Hambali, and is preparing strict security measures for the APEC summit.