by Austin Bay
September 24, 2003
His capture was one of the civilized world's biggest coups inthe War on Terror.
The August arrest of Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali,removed another Al Qaeda killer from global circulation. Hambali was theterror mastermind behind Jemaah Islamiyah (JI, Al Qaeda in Southeast Asia).The "brain" who planned the October 2002 mass murder in Bali, he served asboth people "connector" and supply conduit for numerous attacks throughoutthe region.
Like so many other Al Qaeda big-shots, Hambali put up minimalresistance when the CIA and Thai police nabbed him in Bangkok, Thailand. Hewore a t-shirt and shorts. Life on the lam required other sacrifices. He'dalso shaved his jihadi beard. Now he's chatting up interrogators about JI'splans for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok October20-21, which President George W. Bush will attend. JI targeted two hotelsfor bomb attacks.
Could Hambali be lying? Sure, but bet what he says dovetailswith other intelligence.
There's another reason he's talking -- in his gut he's apeculiar kind of coward. I'm constantly struck by the discrepancy betweentop-dog terrorists' fight-to-the-death bombast and their growing record ofsurrender. The round-faced Hambali went with a sigh, not suicidal grenades.Osama bin Laden-inspired terrorists claim to fight their war to redeemcosmic iniquity. The meek Hambali-in-shorts was almost comic, except thelittle thug is so heinously soaked in blood there is no humor, only bitterjustice.
President Bush announced Hambali's arrest, but the news wastreated as ho-hum by a press corps focused on Iraq. Iraq is the big game. Afunctioning Iraqi democracy will recast the terror-breeding zone of failurecalled the Middle East. If the U.S. effort in Iraq succeeds, it will cut thecord of terror cash flowing from wealthy Islamists into vulnerable areas like Southeast Asia.
But the tentacles of the terror war are truly global, andHambali himself was a dangerous tentacle.
Singaporean police proved in the mid-1990s that Hambali helpedJI recruits move from Southeast Asia to Al Qaeda training camps inAfghanistan. He also orchestrated the December 2000 terror bombings inManila, which killed 22 and injured 100. Those bombs shocked Asia, but atthe 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 Asiaand the Pacific. The arrest of terrorist Ramzi Yousef stopped that day ofinfamy. Still, Hambali's history is that of a man who thinks big and thinksin 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 topay more attention to Hambali. The U.S. Navy focused on possible attacks onships sailing between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and transiting theStraits of Malacca, which separate Malaysia and Indonesia.
One Southeast Asian security agent told me last year inSingapore, "There are other attractive targets (besides Navy ships) fromtheir (JI's) perspective. ... We've been targets longer than you. I don'tsay this to insult. America has joined our war."
The big target the agent fingered is populous and predominantlyMuslim Indonesia. Hambali supposedly helped organize the recent Jakartabombing that killed 14 and wounded 150. Another target is Singapore, whichsits 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 inSingapore. Singapore stopped that attack with a series of arrests inDecember 2001. The police obtained a videotape shot by Hambali's pals asthey "cased" the embassy. The terrorists stand in a bus kiosk near theembassy's entrance, smiling like punk kids throwing rocks at cars. Ofcourse, they intend to commit mass murder. Moral men in a cosmic war?They're a suicide cult of thugs brainwashed by an ideology of victimizationand propped up by Arab oil cash.
Sharp police work stopped their evil act.
Sharp police work and coordinated intelligence sharing led toHambali's arrest. Chalk up a victory for the civilized.