Renewed fight against terror

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 10 Aug 2003

Security agencies in the region would have to work harder to fight Jemaah Islamiah from now. The bomb blast at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta last week is proof that despite the arrest of over 100 suspects and its leaders,the group is still capable of wreaking terror across the region. WONG CHUN WAI and LOURDES CHARLES analyse the implications of the blast and the trials of JI leaders. 

WAN Min Wan Mat, a former lecturer at Universiti Teknoloji Malaysia, walked into a room at Bukit Aman two weeks ago. Without handcuffs, the 42-year-old former Jemaah Islamiah leader caught a few reporters waiting for him by surprise. 

For a while, they thought the Kelantan-born militant was a Special Branch officer. They might not have known that for years, Wan Min had been a master of disguise. 

The quiet and unassuming head of the JI chapter in Johor began his chilling plots in 1993. Over the next four years he carried out secret military training in the jungles of Johor's Gunung Ledang and Gunung Belumut, with 15 to 30 JI members. There the misguided group learnt jungle warfare to prepare fighting a holy war. 

In 1996, he travelled to Mindanao in southern Philippines to engage in more military training with Muslim groups. Two years later, he helped set up the Luqmanul Hakiem in Ulu Tiram, Johor. 

The school, which was financed by JI, was founded by Abubakar Ba’asyir and Abdullah Sungkar. Abubakar Ba’asyir is currently standing trial for treason in Jakarta; Abdullah died in 1991. Both had lived in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan, until they returned to Indonesia in 1999. 

As a director of the school, Wan Min was responsible for the financing, administration and teaching curriculum. Later, the school turned out to be producing JI militants. While there, he met Amrozi (who was sentenced to death last week for the deadly nightclub bombings in Bali). 

Two weeks ago, Wan Min admitted to playing a role in the Bali bombing. Testifying via video conferencing, Wan Min admitted sending RM76,000 to Ali Gufron alias Mukhlas – the elder brother of Amrozi – for the attack. 

Mukhlas, who is on trial for the Bali blast, was also a student at Luqmanul Hakiem. There, Mukhlas met Faridah Abbas, who was then studying at the school. Five of their six children were born in Johor. 

Wan Min, who is being detained under the Internal Security Act, said he did not know what the money was for but “through my acquaintance and relationship with Mukhlas and other JI members, I was told that part of the proceeds came from al-Qaeda.” 

The revelation is important as Wan Min's testimony further strengthened evidence that JI is linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda as well as connected to Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM), said to be led by Nik Adli Nik Aziz, the son of Kelantan Mentri Besar and PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat. 

Following last week's sentencing of Amrozi, attention has shifted to several high-profile cases involving Abubakar, Imam Samudra, Mukhlas and Ali Imron. There are over 20 other cases involving less-known figures. 

But the bombing of the JW Marriot Hotel in Jakarta – just two days before the court verdict of Amrozi – has sent a chilling message to security agencies in the region, particularly Indonesia. 

The trial of Abubakar will resume while Imam’s case is nearing completion. With a verdict expected in weeks, there is fear that the JI will launch similar attacks to prove that the movement is alive. 

This time, it need not be Jakarta. It could be anywhere in the region. Aiman Zarwawi, who is the al-Qaeda number two, sent a warning through Al-Jazeera in an audiotape, warning that fresh attacks would be mounted without giving specific indication as to which part of the world. He said the target included western targets in all countries. 

The warning was issued on Sunday, 48 hours before the blast in Jakarta. Two weeks earlier, security agencies had received word that an attack, possibly in Indonesia, was imminent. 

Intelligence sources said a renewed fight against terrorists in the region was now under way. With Indonesia celebrating its independence on Aug 27, there are fears that Islamic militants would strike around that time. 

“With the close link between Indonesian terrorists and their counterparts in neighbouring countries, it is becoming more vital for security agencies to exchange information,” said one academic. 

“No country can afford to let its guard down because no one knows when they will strike again. We have to examine our methods as well as our security laws if Asean wants to be truly effective in fighting terrorists.'' 

These measures would include the introduction of powers to detain terrorist suspects without trial, a law missing in Indonesia. Coordinating Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono correctly said last week that tough measures might be called even at the expense of human rights concerns. 

The quality of intelligence gathering and the sharing of information among Asean countries is something that our security agencies, particularly those from Indonesia and Philippines, must seriously review. 

The lesson from the Jakarta blast is that the JI network is still capable of carrying out its attacks despite the arrest of over 100 suspects of all levels in the region. The arrests of its key leaders have clearly demonstrated that the network is still capable of functioning. 

Clearly, it is not enough for Indonesia to merely step up searches at private and public buildings if it wants to fight these militants. 

The Indonesian government – probably concerned about next year’s presidential election – still insists that detention without trial is sensitive. 

Nearer to home, media reports put Singapore as a potential terrorist target. The perception is that Singapore is regarded as an ally of the United States, even as it tries hard to deny it. 

But as the Singapore Straits Times put it, the republic is “home to American and other foreign multi-nationals and a transit point for US navy vessels” and has also been relentless in the anti-terror fight.” 

“Although Singapore has crippled JI’s network here, the group remains active ranked operatives can plan and function even if senior leaders have been arrested,’’ the newspaper quoted Defence and Strategic Studies analyst Andrew Tan as saying. 

More than that, the job of fighting terrorists should not be left to the police alone. It requires the support of the customs, immigration, navy, religious institutions and non-government organisations. 

The immigration authorities, in particular, must be stricter in dealing with Indonesians applying for Malaysian permanent residence status. It is not good for the image of Malaysia to see top JI leaders such as Hambali with Malaysian permanent residence status. 

The point is that these JI militants are heretics despite professing to fight a holy war. Tolerance of these militants, in whatever way, will merely send the wrong signals which would have dire consequences later.  

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