There is a close link between the Jemaah Islamiah and the Kumpulan Militan Malaysia. They share the aspiration of setting up an Islamic state in Malaysia through violence and by overthrowing a democratically-elected government. One person, who was able to forge that link, was Hambali, the operations director of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda movement, write WONG CHUN WAI and LOURDES CHARLES in the concluding part of a two-series article.
With his kopiah (skull cap) and flowing Arab dress, Hambali cut an impressive figure to those who dreamt of setting up an Islamic utopia.
To his young listeners, not only was he fluent in Arabic and Islamic matters but he was a real-life fighter. He had fought four times in Ambon against the Christians, three times against the Russians in Afghanistan and twice in southern Philippines in an attempt to set up an Islamic state.
Among his admirers were Nik Adli Nik Aziz, son of the Kelantan Mentri Besar, and other PAS youth leaders who were involved in the KMM.
Information obtained by The Star shows that Hambali began meeting the KMM members from 1997 where usrah (discussions) were held.
A source, who had followed the KMM activities closely, said the meetings lasted for three years, with the last meeting held in Oct 2000.
“Hambali had great influence on the KMM members because of his strong personality and impressive credentials.
“They were told that the only way to set up an Islamic state was to overthrow the Malaysian government by force. The infidels have no place in an Islamic state.
“The KMM members were told that a holy war was a fardhu ain (requirement) and not fardhu kifayah (obligation) because the majority of Muslims were oppressed,” said the source.
These sessions must have had an impact on the KMM members but their activities never came to light until May 18, 2001, when they attempted to rob the Southern Bank in Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya.
In that botched job, the bank's security guard shot three armed robbers, two of whom have died. Following the incident, police picked up nine KMM members in June, with arrests in Kedah, Perak, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
“The robbery provided us the lead as it involved two graduates from the University of Arkansas and University of Karachi. The police follow-up was swift,” a police source recalled.
Police also seized a cache of firearms and ammunition from one of the group's hideout in Puchong and further investigations showed that they were linked to the murder of Lunas state assemblyman Dr Joe Fernandez and the attempted bombing of a Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur in 2001.
Nik Adli, 34, was said to have been elected leader by the KMM at a meeting attended by 12 members in Kampung Seri Aman, Puchong, in early 1999.
In Kuala Lumpur, police reported that an air-gun and about 150 rounds of ammunition had been seized from a house belonging to Lotfi Ariffin, a PAS Youth exco member, who was picked up on Aug 3, 2001, for alleged involvement in the KMM.
Some of the KMM members, like Hambali, had fought in Afghanistan, and intelligence sources believe that the links could have been established then.
Said a source: “Nik Adli made frequent trips to Afghanistan, even after the Russian troops left the country and a civil war broke out between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims.”
Investigations showed that Nik Adli studied in Pakistan between 1987 and 1996 and visited Afghanistan in 1990, 1991 and 1992.
To the credit of the Malaysian police, the crackdown on the KMM began even before the Sept 11 attacks in New York. The arrests were criticised by some quarters, including the foreign press, which claimed it was politically motivated against PAS.
As the Jemaah Islamiah mastermind, Hambali organised meetings at mantiqi (regional) and wakalah (state) level, with a directive to a JI member in 1998 to hold a 40-week training programme.
“The programme was handed to representatives in Johor, Negri Sembilan, Perak, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Singapore to be carried out,” a source revealed.
A special squad, called Pasukan Angsana, was subsequently formed by the Johor JI to ensure that the “veterans” of southern Philippines and Afghanistan would continue to hone their skills in planting bombs and handling other explosive items including Molotov cocktails.
But Hambali had bigger ambitions. Together with JI leader Abu Bakar Baashir, he arranged a meeting of senior terrorist groups at a house near the International Islamic University.
“It was the perfect setting. Neighbours are used to seeing foreigners in Arab clothing walking in the neighbourhood, so no one would have suspected that a meeting of terrorist leaders were being held,” said a source.
Two other meetings were also held to discuss plans to set up a pan-Islamic state as well as to coordinate bombing activities in the region.
According to intelligence sources, much of the information of the three meetings to set up the Rabitul Mujahidin (RAM), or International Association of Mujahidin, was given by detained JI member Faiz Abubakar Bafana.
Malaysian police, in its files, confirmed that KMM members attended the said meetings, held in Petaling Jaya, Gombak and Perak.
While some of these self-appointed guardians of militant Islam have been detained under the ISA, many others, such as Hambali, are still at large and remain highly dangerous.
Their whereabouts remain unknown and the likelihood is that they will lie low for the time being, before they hatch their next violent plot in the name of religion.