by Austin Bay
September 24, 2003
His capture was one of the civilized world's biggest coups in
the War on Terror.
The August arrest of Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali,
removed another Al Qaeda killer from global circulation. Hambali was the
terror mastermind behind Jemaah Islamiyah (JI, Al Qaeda in Southeast Asia).
The "brain" who planned the October 2002 mass murder in Bali, he served as
both people "connector" and supply conduit for numerous attacks throughout
Like so many other Al Qaeda big-shots, Hambali put up minimal
resistance when the CIA and Thai police nabbed him in Bangkok, Thailand. He
wore a t-shirt and shorts. Life on the lam required other sacrifices. He'd
also shaved his jihadi beard. Now he's chatting up interrogators about JI's
plans for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok October
20-21, which President George W. Bush will attend. JI targeted two hotels
for bomb attacks.
Could Hambali be lying? Sure, but bet what he says dovetails
with other intelligence.
There's another reason he's talking -- in his gut he's a
peculiar kind of coward. I'm constantly struck by the discrepancy between
top-dog terrorists' fight-to-the-death bombast and their growing record of
surrender. The round-faced Hambali went with a sigh, not suicidal grenades.
Osama bin Laden-inspired terrorists claim to fight their war to redeem
cosmic iniquity. The meek Hambali-in-shorts was almost comic, except the
little thug is so heinously soaked in blood there is no humor, only bitter
President Bush announced Hambali's arrest, but the news was
treated as ho-hum by a press corps focused on Iraq. Iraq is the big game. A
functioning Iraqi democracy will recast the terror-breeding zone of failure
called the Middle East. If the U.S. effort in Iraq succeeds, it will cut the
cord of terror cash flowing from wealthy Islamists into vulnerable areas lik
e Southeast Asia.
But the tentacles of the terror war are truly global, and
Hambali himself was a dangerous tentacle.
Singaporean police proved in the mid-1990s that Hambali helped
JI recruits move from Southeast Asia to Al Qaeda training camps in
Afghanistan. He also orchestrated the December 2000 terror bombings in
Manila, which killed 22 and injured 100. Those bombs shocked Asia, but at
the time received little attention in the United States.
Hambali is also a key figure in Al Qaeda's OPLAN BOJINKA.
Hatched in 1994, the plan called for hijacking 11 American planes over Asia
and the Pacific. The arrest of terrorist Ramzi Yousef stopped that day of
infamy. Still, Hambali's history is that of a man who thinks big and thinks
in terms of a long, drawn-out conflict.
Which is why he was bin Laden's man in Asia.
After the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, America began to
pay more attention to Hambali. The U.S. Navy focused on possible attacks on
ships sailing between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and transiting the
Straits of Malacca, which separate Malaysia and Indonesia.
One Southeast Asian security agent told me last year in
Singapore, "There are other attractive targets (besides Navy ships) from
their (JI's) perspective. ... We've been targets longer than you. I don't
say this to insult. America has joined our war."
The big target the agent fingered is populous and predominantly
Muslim Indonesia. Hambali supposedly helped organize the recent Jakarta
bombing that killed 14 and wounded 150. Another target is Singapore, which
sits in the middle of the Straits and hosts a U.S. Navy supply facility.
Hambali is linked to a planned attack on the American embassy in
Singapore. Singapore stopped that attack with a series of arrests in
December 2001. The police obtained a videotape shot by Hambali's pals as
they "cased" the embassy. The terrorists stand in a bus kiosk near the
embassy's entrance, smiling like punk kids throwing rocks at cars. Of
course, they intend to commit mass murder. Moral men in a cosmic war?
They're a suicide cult of thugs brainwashed by an ideology of victimization
and propped up by Arab oil cash.
Sharp police work stopped their evil act.
Sharp police work and coordinated intelligence sharing led to
Hambali's arrest. Chalk up a victory for the civilized.