BANGKOK: The former operations chief of regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) Hambali is believed to be hiding here, a senior Thai national security official said yesterday.
Hambali, an Indonesian formally named Riduan Isamuddin, is understood to be the link man between al-Qaeda and JI, which staged the Bali blasts last October killing 202 people.
“Hambali has not been arrested yet but I believe he is hiding here,” a senior national security official said.
Thailand admitted last December that Hambali, Asia's most wanted man, entered the kingdom briefly at an undisclosed date and that authorities had missed him by “less than one day” after surveillance activities detected his presence.
Hambali was now being supported by nine Thai Muslim extremists who had helped shepherd him and five other JI members into the city in February 2002, the official said.
“These nine extremists supported the six JI members who slipped through Narathiwat, where they plotted the attack in Bali in February 2002. The group of nine now assist Hambali.”
He said the nine had strong contacts with extremists in Malaysia and were based in three of Thailand's five Muslim-majority provinces – bordering Malaysia: Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani – and were led by a Muslim cleric in Yala.
“It's hard for Thai authorities to crush them because there is no evidence and if authorities arrest them without evidence there will be serious repercussions because all nine are religious leaders running religious schools,” he said.
Hambali is said to have played a key role in directing the Bali attack and the Christmas Eve bombings of churches and priests, which killed 19 people in 2000. – AFP