Imam Samudra is exactly the sort of man investigators expected to
find behind the meticulously constructed car bomb that ripped
through a Bali nightclub last month.
He received weapons training at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. He
taught at a religious school in Malaysia associated with Abu Bakar
Bashir, a Muslim cleric who the US says leads a terror group that
serves as Al Qaeda's Southeast Asian wing. He prefers working with a
close circle of friends. And, police say, he's killed before.
Mr. Samudra is the man Indonesian police say served as the "field
commander" for the terrorist cell that carried out the Bali attack.
"All the orders came from Samudra, beginning in the planning stages,
through to the execution of the bombing,'' National Police Chief
Da'I Bachtiar told reporters last week.
Samudra was arrested last Thursday as he was about to board a
ferry from Java to Sumatra - the first step on a journey that he
hoped would safely carry him out of the country.
Instead, two of his associates arrested earlier in the week
tipped authorities off to his plans. By Friday, Indonesian police
were parading a glowering Samudra, an incongruous figure in a black
T-shirt and Converse sneakers shouting, "God is great."
His arrest is the biggest break in the Bali case for Indonesian
police, who are working with Australian investigators. But
Indonesian intelligence agents warn that any euphoria should be
tempered by the knowledge that the most senior participant in the
plot - a Yemeni national they say entered the country on a forged US
passport - got away.
"This was a classic Al Qaeda operation,'' says a senior
Indonesian investigator. He says that the cell was composed mostly
of local Indonesians while the bombing expertise was provided by the
Yemeni, whose code name was "Syafullah," and two other foreigners.
These men, he says, came in shortly before the attack, assembled the
bomb, and were probably well clear of the country before it went
"Good work is being done, but we're far from achieving total
success," the investigator says. "There were 272 Indonesians who
went to Afghanistan. We've arrested, what, seven of them at most."
While not every Indonesian veteran of the Afghan war is involved
in terrorism, almost every known Indonesian terrorist has ties to
Afghanistan - a fact Samudra's involvement helps confirm. His arrest
fills out a picture that has been emerging of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI),
Al Qaeda's regional terror wing, that has been slowly and steadily
emerging over the past two years.
The group has been built around a tight network of Indonesian
leaders with ties to the Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in the
Javanese city of Solo. The school was founded by the deceased
Indonesian cleric Abdullah Sungkar and Mr. Bashir, both of whom fled
Indonesia in the 1980s to escape jail terms associated with their
advocacy for making the country an Islamic state. The US says
Bashir, who returned to Indonesia after the fall of dictator Suharto
in 1998, is the leader of JI. It's a charge Bashir, currently in
police custody, denies.
To investigators, the emerging pattern is both comforting and
alarming. Comforting, because it indicates the terror war remains on
a narrow, focused front here, with the vast majority of religious
groups untainted by violence. …