TAUFIK Abdul Halim aka Dani, the Malaysian who was sentenced to death by the Indonesian authorities for his involvement in terrorist activities including the bombing of churches in the republic in 2001, recently had the sentence commuted to life imprisonment. In the second of a two-part article, LOURDES CHARLES relates his interview with the convicted terrorist, the first Malaysian journalist to do so.
TAUFIK ABDUL HALIM, a former Universiti Institut Teknologi Mara (UiTM) graduate, gained notoriety when he was caught setting off a bomb at the Plaza Atrium in Jakarta on Aug 1 two years ago.
His target was the church worshippers leaving the premises on the third floor of the complex.
But Taufik ended up losing part of his right leg when the bomb that was placed in a box prematurely exploded.
He was sentenced to death but has managed to get his punishment reduced to life, following an appeal. Taufik has also been blamed for bombing the Santa Ana and HKBP churches in Jakarta.
Today, the crippled terrorist shares a cell with two others at the Salemba Prison, 30km from the city centre.
“I don’t regret my actions. I will always do my duty as required of a Muslim,’’ he said defiantly during an exclusive interview in the prison visiting area.
The 27-year-old radical now wears a pony-tail with centre parting, making him look more like a 1960s anti-war activist than an Islamic hothead.
Wearing a red collarless T-shirt with the words Warga Binaan (reform citizen) and brown pants with the right leg of the pants rolled up to the knee, he looked haggard.
Taufik’s right leg from the knee below had to be amputated as a result of being badly injured when the bomb he and his friend carried to the shopping complex in Senen, Jakarta, went off prematurely.
“I felt I had a duty to do as a Muslim after reading from newspapers and the Internet that my Muslim brothers and sisters were being murdered and persecuted in the Malukus and other parts of the world.
“That’s when a few friends and I decided we should do something about it and we went to Ambon and fought against the Christians,’’ he said.
But Taufik is adamant that he does not look to the Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM) or the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) for instructions.
Taufik’s brother-in-law, engineer Zulkifli Hir, is a suspected member of the KMM. He was allegedly involved in the murder of Lunas Assemblyman Dr Joe Fernandez and is high on the wanted list of police forces in the region.
The KMM is headed by Nik Adli Nik Mat, the son of Kelantan Mentri Besar and PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, who is now detained under the Internal Security Act.
Intelligence sources said Taufik and eight others went to Ambon, the capital of Malakus, to fight Christians there.
The eight are believed to be Yasin Ali, Ismail, Usman, Saad, Ibrahim, Ilham, Hidayat and Lukman. They are from Terengganu, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Pahang.
Taufik was 26 when he left his home town in Johor after telling his parents that he was going far away for a while.
The group left Malaysia sometime in April 2001 and flew to Sabah and travelled by land to Tawau. From there they hired a speed boat to Nunukan in east Kalimantan before proceeding to North Sulawesi by ship and then to Manado before flying to Ternate in the Malukus where the real fighting began.
Taufik was reported to have spent his time defending the kampungs where the Muslims lived in the civil strife which had left thousands dead.
After about five months in Ambon, Taufik and two of his Malaysian friends decided to proceed to Jakarta while the others returned to Malaysia.
They stayed in a rented house in east Jakarta and that was when Taufik met the notorious Imam Samudera, who has been implicated in the Bali bombings. Imam, 32, was in Afghanistan in 1980 for arms training and was arrested on Nov 21, 2002.
It was in Indonesia that Taufik began to get deeply involved with the terror group although he claimed that he does not know the JI’s organizational structure or that of the KMM.
According to intelligence sources, on Aug 1 Imam, Taufik and several others went to the Atrium Plaza to survey the area.
Their target was a group of Christians who were attending worship sessions on the third floor of the shopping complex.
In the interview, Taufik admitted accompanying someone named Agung but claimed that he merely followed him until the entrance of the plaza where Agung left a box by a pillar.
“We do not know what happened but when the bomb exploded, I was thrown off as I was the nearest to the box.
“My leg, as you can see, was seriously wounded and my whole body was bleeding,’’ he said.
The bomb was scheduled to blow up at 9.15pm when the worshippers board their bus back for home but it went off 15 minutes earlier instead.
Police investigations later revealed that Taufik, who has a host of aliases like Dani, Dodi Mulia, Yudi Mulia Purnomo and Herman, was also alleged to be involved with the bombings of the Santa Anna church and another church together with Imam Samudra.
On his meetings with top leaders of the KMM, JI and the al-Qaeda movement, Taufik insisted he had never met any of them personally but admitted he had attended talks and lectures given by several of them.
Asked whose talks he attended, Taufik said he attended JI leader Abubakar Ba’asyir’s talk in Gombak sometime in 1997 or 1998 where he claimed scores of people mostly youths were present.
He declined to say if he had met Hambali, the IJ mastermind, while in Malaysia but intelligence sources said he had met Hambali before.
During the interview, Taufik was handed a list of terror suspects sought by the Indonesian police, and asked if he knew anyone on the list.
He read the eight-page report and said he only knew Imam but not the others, including Amrozi, Ali Ghuffron, Dr Azahari Husin and Nordin Mohd Top.
The four have been blamed for the Bali bombing on Oct 12, which killed 182 people.
Amrozi, a 39-year-old mechanic, confessed to buying the explosives and the van that blew up outside the Sari Club in Bali while elder brother Ali Ghuffron, 41, also known as Muchlas, is said to have replaced Hambali as the mastermind of JI and new point man for al-Qaeda for the region. Ghuffron was arrested on Dec 3, 2002.
Dr Azahari, a former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia lecturer, is an explosives expert and linked to the bombings of several churches in Jakarta and the Bali bombings. He is on the run.
Another fugitive, Nordin, a UTM science graduate, who worked as a senior supervisor with Luqman Manul Hakiem Islamic school in Johor, is said to have financed several bombings. The school, which had linked to JI, has been closed down by the Malaysian authorities.
Asked about his brother-in-law Zulkifli Hir, who is also on the wanted list for his alleged involvement with the KMM and JI, he remained silent.
Born in Muar, Johor, Taufik is the second in a family of seven children of Abdul Halim and Juliah.
Taufik studied in Johor and after completing his Form Three, he was enrolled in a state government religious school known as MahaJohor. Taufik continued his studies at ITM in Shah Alam before going to Pakistan to further his Islamic knowledge in five different schools from 1993 until 1996.
He was allegedly involved in several illegal activities while in Pakistan and was said to have participated in the Afghan war.
Upon his return in 1996 Taufik was arrested under the Internal Security Act and detained for a month and let off with a warning.
Taufik denied he fought in Afghanistan or even receiving arms training there, saying he was only in Pakistan to widen his religious knowledge.
When told The Star has a photograph of him holding a pistol taken in Kashmir, Taufik appeared startled, but quickly replied: “ Almost everyone owns a gun there and the one in the photo is a home-made gun.’’
Taufik, who seemed well informed about events in Malaysia, even asked about Sri Lanka academician Dr Rohan Gunaratna’s alleged statement regarding the al-Qaeda link with the Barisan Nasional government.
The Barisan was named in a chart of a UN report extracted from the book titled Inside al-Qaeda, Global Network of Terror but the UN has deleted the error from its document since then.
He said he came to know about the reports from reading and listening to the news on the radio.
“By the way, I heard Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad would be stepping down as PM. Is it true? I guess he wants to step down with dignity and honour,’’ he said.
Asked if he hated the Malaysian government or its rulers, Taufik said he did not hate anyone or held any grudge.
But irrespective of his sentiments, the reality is that Taufik now has to spend his time within the confines of his prison cell.
“Time passes by slowly here. I think of my family members and friends back home but that’s all I can do,’’ he said.
To his prison mates, Taufik is known as Dany, the terrorist who wanted to set off a bomb but got his leg blown off instead.
He seems to be a misfit in the prison, where most of the 2,000-odd prisoners are hardcore criminals, including rapists and drug traffickers.
They leave him alone, mostly. But Taufik, who enjoys meeting visitors to kill boredom, ironically has little, or refuses, to reveal much about what he has done.
“What can I say? What I have done has always been for my oppressed Muslim brothers,’’ he said.
But Taufik should consider himself lucky. He escaped death row and is serving a life sentence. And if his luck holds out, he may be freed in 20 years.
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