Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Indonesian Suspect in 2002 Bali Bombings Captured in Pakistan

A senior Indonesian al-Qaida terror suspect wanted in the 2002 Bali bombings has been arrested in Pakistan in a major scalp for the international campaign against Islamist extremists. Few details were released about the arrest of Umar Patek, but it appeared to be the result of cross-border co-operation in the fight against terrorism. After the 9/11 attacks, several top al-Qaida operatives were arrested in Pakistan, but in recent years there have been few known high-profile arrests.

Umar Patek, a suspected member of the al-Qaida linked militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, is believed to have served as the group's deputy field commander in the nightclub bombings that left 202 people dead, many of them foreigners.

The U.S., which lost seven citizens in the attack, was offering a $1 million reward for his arrest. Patek's whereabouts were not immediately known Tuesday. The question of what to do with him could become a key indicator of how U.S. President Barack Obama will handle major terrorist suspects captured abroad. However, American officials declined to comment on the case. Under former President George W. Bush, he likely would have been moved into the CIA's network of secret prisons. For instance, one of Patek's accused co-conspirators in the nightclub bombing, Hambali, spent years in the prison system and is now being held in Guantanamo Bay. But the CIA's secret prisons are closed and Obama is trying to empty Guantanamo, not add new inmates.

Patek is believed to have been among a group of Indonesians, Malaysians and Filipinos who travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 1980s and 90s for training and fighting. On their return to Southeast Asia, they formed Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for a string of suicide bombings targeting night clubs, restaurants, hotels, and a Western embassy in Indonesia. Together more than 260 people have died. Patek fled to the southern Philippines after the Bali bombings, seeking refuge and training with both the MILF and later, Abu Sayyaf. But he is believed to have remained heavily engaged in Jemaah Islamiyah operations at home. His arrest in Pakistan is likely to raise questions over how such a high-profile terrorist can travel across international borders.

By Niniek Karmini and Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Chris Brummitt in Islamabad, Pakisan; and Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo
in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.

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