The Singapore authorities have detained 31 suspected terrorists, who are members of the radical Jemaah Islamiah. Among them is Faiz Abu Bakar Bafana, a key figure in the JI movement in the republic. WONG CHUN WAI and LOURDES CHARLES spoke to regional security officials to put together a profile of Faiz, a dangerous Islamic radical, in the first part of a two-part article.
FAIZ ABU BAKAR BAFANA is the only Malaysian among the 31 suspected terrorists under detention in Singapore for being members of the Jemaah Islamiah, which has links with Osama bin Laden.
He was regarded as the most important man in the group, being the financier and probably the most well-off in the group.
The 40-year-old contractor had the ears of his admirers because he was ready to practise what he preached – he was ready to be a suicide bomber and die for jihad.
Together with the other JI members, Faiz came up with at least six sabotage plans to create havoc in Singapore.
They included blowing up a truck filled with three tonnes of ammonium nitrate parked outside the US Embassy.
Six other trucks, also filled with explosives, were to go off simultaneously at the British and Australian high commissions, the Israeli embassy, US naval bases and commercial buildings.
Another target was the shuttle bus service for US navy personnel travelling between the Sembawang wharf and the Yishun MRT station.
“For jihad, he was prepared to do anything. His targets included Westerners and others they perceived as infidels,” one official said.
Among those Faiz met was Mohamed Atef, a trusted lieutenant of Osama in Afghanistan, sometime in 1999.
He also funded bomb attacks in Manila in Dec 2000, which killed 14 people and injured 100.
His two brothers, Fathi and Fauzi, followed in his footsteps.
Both have been detained for being JI members.
Fathi, 47, is a businessman who served as a lance-corporal in the army while Fauzi is a 37-year-old technical officer.
Fauzi was freed after a month with restriction orders as he was not involved in terrorism-related activities.
“Faiz obviously created a deep impression on his brothers. They seemed to share his idealism,” a source said.
But what is mentioned less in most press reports is that Fauzi was not Malaysian-born – he had renounced his Singaporean citizenship.
A graduate of the Singapore Polytechnic, he was exempted from the national service but it is not known why.
He then moved to Malaysia and tried all kinds of work before developing his construction business.
Little information is available as to what made him leave Singapore and how long he stayed in Malaysia before he was given citizenship.
Faiz spent his childhood in Tanah Abang, Jakarta, where his father, of Arab descent, was a textile trader. Later, he moved the family to Singapore.
According to intelligence reports, Faiz began to get acquainted with extremist thinking in 1987 in Malaysia.
“He was inspired by Abubakar Ba’asyir and Abdullah Sungkar, the founders of JI, who were giving sermons,” a source said.
The source said Faiz was fired up with calls by the two fiery Indonesian preachers to set up an Islamic state and on Muslim solidarity to fight the “infidels.”
“When the civil war broke out between Muslims and Christians in the Malukus, his militant tendencies increased,” he added.
According to local intelligence, Faiz kept a low profile while in Malaysia, carrying out legitimate business activities.
“In fact, he secured an Education Ministry contract to build a school in Terengganu,” the source said.
According to Singaporean and Indonesian intelligence reports, Faiz had watched VCDs showing attacks on Muslim villages and mosques.
“These VCDs were widely distributed in mosques and some JI members including Hambali, the mastermind, encouraged Malaysians to fight in Ambon,” one official said.
Hambali at the same time set up a non-governmental organisation in Selangor to raise funds to buy arms for fighters in Ambon.
But as dangerous as Faiz may seemed, the latest intelligence reports from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia suggested he has been “co-operative” with the police, providing many vital clues.
“In short, he is singing. He has signed a statement describing in detail his involvement with JI and Abubakar Ba’asyir since 1987,” a source said.
According to Tempo magazine, which obtained a copy of the statement, Faiz admitted going to the central Java city of Solo five times to meet Hambali (real name Riduan Isamuddin) and Abubakar Ba’asyir.
He also pointed at the two men as being responsible for the setting up of Rabitatul Mujahiddin (RAM), a regional alliance of jihad or mujahiddin groups.
The objective was to unite the region's militant groups and to use the organisation to realise the Daulah Islamiah, a pan-Islamic state comprising Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei.
The coalition, headed by Hambali, met three times in Malaysia including at an apartment near the International Islamic University in Petaling Jaya.
The representatives included 10 JI inner circle members and representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo) and the Arakanese Rohingya Nationalist Organisation.
A document entitled “Indonesia’s Terrorist Network: How Jemaah Islamiyah Operates,” by the International Crisis Group (ICG) named Nik Adli Nik Aziz as one of those present.
Nik Adli is the son of Kelantan Mentri Besar and PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
Nik Adli was also head of the Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM), whose 60 members had been arrested by the Malaysian police.
It was at these meetings that JI decided to bomb the official residence of the Philippine ambassador in Jakarta in Aug 2000, which killed two persons and injured 20 others.
According to Tempo, Faiz implicated Nik Adli in his statement, adding that another meeting took place at the former’s house in USJ, Subang Jaya, Selangor.
He also admitted to meeting Muchlas, Amrozi and Imam Samudra, who are involved in the Bali bombings.
Amrozi, a 39-year-old mechanic, confessed to buying the explosives and the van that blew up outside the Sari Club in Bali.
Ali Ghuffron, 41, also known as Muchlas, is Amrozi’s elder brother.
He was said to have replaced Hambali as the mastermind of JI and new point man for Al-Qaeda in South-East Asia.
Muchlas, who had met Osama, funded JI operations in Indonesia.
He was arrested on Dec 3, 2002.
Imam, 32, is implicated in a series of church bombings in Dec 2000.
He headed to Afghanistan in 1980 for arms training and was arrested on Nov 21, 2002.
According to Indonesian police, Faiz claimed that at one meeting with Abubakar Ba’asyir and Muchlas, they planned to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri and attack church leaders in Manado but cancelled the plan.
Faiz also admitted meeting Imam @ Kudama @ Abdul Aziz in Kuala Lumpur in Dec 2001, alleging that the latter wanted RM15,000 to buy TNT.
According to Tempo, Abubakar Ba’asyir denied any knowledge of RAM but admitted meeting Faiz at one of his talks.
He also denied attending two JI meetings in Subang Jaya, describing it as a “big lie” and that Faiz “was under great pressure.”
“The Singaporean and Malaysian security forces among the most arrogant of people. My suspicion is that even his signature was forged or he was forced to sign,” the magazine quoted him as saying. He has denied any role in the Bali bombings.
But it was Faiz’s testimony that finally persuaded the Indonesian authorities to put Abubakar Ba’asyir, who is of Yemeni descent, in detention on Nov 11, 2002.
He is also head of the Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI).
The MMI military wing is Laskar Jundullah (Army of Allah), an anti-American group that has more than 50,000 members.
Led by Agus Dwikarna, Laskar Jundullah achieved notoriety when it forcibly raided hotels for American tourists in 2000.
Agus, who is being detained in the Philippines for possession of explosives, was also present at the RAM meeting near IIU.
Besides MMI, al-Qaeda has links with Laskar Jihad (Army of Jihad) headed by Umar Thalib, who had personally met Osama and studied with his associates in Pakistan.
Faiz is being investigated not just by police in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
Philippine investigators are compiling a dossier on him as well.
According to Filipino reports, Fathur Roman al-Gouzi, a JI member arrested in Manila on Jan 15 last year, pointed to Faiz as the linkman.
“Faiz is said to have ordered Fathur to buy more explosives and prepare them for shipping to Singapore,” said a source.
Fathur had since led investigators to one tonne of TNT, detonating wire and 17 M-16s in a bamboo shack behind a house in General Santos City, Manila.
He planted a bomb in a Manila train station that left 22 dead and 100 injured.
Born in Madium, West Java, he graduated from Pondok Ngruki – one of the schools set up by Abubakar Ba’asyir in 1989.
Investigation documents showed he studied in Pakistan and made at least two training trips to Afghanistan.
He was said to have spent some time in Malaysia and married a Malaysian.
His father Zemuri served time in prison for alleged links to Komando Jihad, a 1970s group which wanted to set up Darul Islam.
Both Fathur and Agus are being detained in Camp Creme, Manila.
Indonesian authorities want Faiz to testify against Abubakar Ba’asyir via teleconferencing.
His testimony, if it materialises, would certainly be crucial as it would shed more light on the shadowy militant group.
More important, it would help the security authorities in the region in their war on terrorism.
Malaysian police who carried out exhaustive investigations on Faiz said he could provide answers to many questions.
“His testimony is certainly vital and helpful to our investigations in our fight against terrorists.
“We will continue to act against those who use force to threaten national security and to overthrow our democratic government by force,” a Malaysian police official warned.
The startling fact is that as many as 200 KMM members may be on the run and the fear is that these militants will get support from the JI network in the region.
But if Faiz continues to be co-operative with the police in the region, the law will reach them faster.
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