More on Bali bombing and al-Qaeda
I can confirm that Abu Bakar Bashir is “of Arab descent but born in Jombang, in Indonesia.” Kim Sengupta reported it in the Independent. I was also told that Abu Bakar Bashir is of Hadrami origin by someone who says he went to school with him. As Dr. Freitag points out, this is not meant to say that the substantial Arab-heritage community in Indonesia is suspect, nor that no non-Arab Indonesians are involved in Jemaah Islamiyah. And, of course, the old Yemen-Indonesia connection is still lively today on all sorts of levels. Yemeni-Indonesian trade has grown substantially in recent years, e.g.
I was told by a prominent insider that he believes that Jemaah Islamiya (a tiny fringe group) has been most successful in recruiting among the Hadramis in Indonesia.
There have been some indications of this possibility in the press reports. In January of 2002, Yemen arrested some 40 Indonesian students studying at Islamic seminaries in that country, on suspicion of being involved in radical groups.
In June of 2002, six Yemenis in Jakarta were put under surveillance on suspicion of planning to blow up the US embassy there. The surveillance was done so sloppily, however, that the men noticed it and fled.
Last April, Indonesian terrorist and suspected Jemaah Islamiyah member who was charged with setting off bombs in Manila on Dec. 30, 2001, Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi, was sentenced to 10 to 12 years of imprisonment after pleading guilty to a charge of illegal possession of explosives. His last name suggests an Arab origin.
Press reports allege that one of the four men being interrogated by Indonesian police in connection with the Bali bombing is a Yemeni.
One of the reasons President Megawati Sukarnoputri had earlier been reluctant to ban Jemaah Islamiyah was her fear that such a move would be exploited in the 2004 elections by the fundamentalist party, the United Development Party, headed by Hamzah Haz. Haz and his constituents, the third largest party in parliament, have been openly dismissive of the charges against Bashir and Jemaah Islamiyah. The UDP is pushing for shariah or Islamic law to replace civil law in Indonesia.
Bashir will be questioned by police on Saturday. He was named as a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah by `Umar Faruq, a Kuwaiti member of al-Qaeda captured by the Indonesians and handed over to the Americans this past summer; Faruq is now being held at Bagram in Afghanistan. Faruq had arranged for money to be sent to Jemaah Islamiyah from a wealthy Saudi patron. Bashir initially denied the existence of Jemaah Islamiyah and denied he was the head of it. His followers wear Usama Bin Laden t-shirts.
A possibly more important figure is Ridwan Isamuddin, who goes by the nisbah of Hanbali (Hambali), age 36. Born in 1966 in west Java of a peasant family, he is a member of the consultative councils both of al-Qaeda and of Jemaah Islamiyah. Hanbali fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and recruited some other Indonesian Jemaah members there for JI. Hanbali was the mastermind of a plot to blow up Western embassies in Singapore with truck bombs last December, which was foiled by good intelligence work. Hanbali is thought to have fled to Indonesia, and the Bali bombings have the same modus operandi as the earlier embassy plot. Hanbali had hosted the September 11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdar (of Yemeni origin) and Nawaf al-Hazmi in Kuala Lampur in January of 2000.
Hanbali also gave Abu Bakar Bashir refuge in Malaysia during the Suharto years, when Bashir was not welcome in his own country. And, Hanbali also hosted Zacarias Moussaoui when the latter came to Malaysia, apparently hoping it would be easier to get a US visa there.