Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bali mastermind Hambali may escape trial despite Guantanamo Bay evidence

HAMBALI, considered responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, will never face trial for the worst terrorist attack against Australians, despite a WikiLeaks document showing US investigators believe the Indonesian was intimately involved in the plot.

The newly released document, which was compiled by Hambali's US captors at Guantanamo Bay, suggests the decision to attack Paddy's Bar and the Sari Club in the Kuta district may have come about because an earlier target, a Caltex oil refinery in the Malacca Straits, was judged too difficult.

But despite the view of investigators that Hambali (Riduan Ismudin) was heavily involved in the attacks, as well as a spate of other bombings across Southeast Asia, a senior US official yesterday told The Australian that Hambali was unlikely ever to be charged with the bombing.

"All those plots we are working on, and I think we have evidence," the official said.
"Where we are still lacking, though, is the Bali bombing."

The official, who asked not to be named, said "evidentiary" problems were behind the decision not to lay charges over the Bali bombing that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. "We have got to connect all the dots back to him, and we are still missing some pieces on that."

The document is one of hundreds of secret US government files compiled on the nearly 800 foreign prisoners held in Camp Delta at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

It provides intriguing new details about Hambali's journey from moderate Muslim in Malaysia to hardened extremist, with the terrorist claiming he was recruited and "brainwashed" by radical cleric Abdullah Sungkar, who along with Indonesian Abu Bakar Bashir founded the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah.

The report was signed by US Rear Admiral D.M. Thomas Jr in October 2008, more than five years after Hambali's capture in Thailand in August 2003.

Bearing a recent picture of a slimmer and bearded Hambali, it concludes the terrorist mastermind continues to pose a high risk to US interests and allies, and declares him to be of "high intelligence value" because of his long association with senior al-Qa'ida figures such as Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

The report says the 47-year-old was heavily involved in al-Qa'ida's anthrax and chemical weapons program, and was in Karachi at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US trying to procure equipment for a chemical weapons assault.

The file says Hambali discussed with another senior al-Qa'ida figure the possibility of using helicopters to attack the US embassy in Jakarta as beefed-up security had made it "more difficult to get cars near the embassy".

Hambali was captured in a joint US-Thai operation in Thailand in August 2003.

In an intriguing new theory, US authorities suggest Bali may have been targeted after JI bombmaker Azahari bin Husin told fellow plotter Mohd Farik Bin Amin - who is also a prisoner at Guantanamo - that an attack on a Caltex oil facility was too complex.

"(Mohd Farik Bin Amin) reported back to (Hambali) that Dr Azahari stated the operation would be very difficult to conduct," the report says.

"(Hambali) speculated that Dr Azahari chose to conduct the Bali nightclub bombing versus the original operations against Caltex, ExxonMobil, and/or the gold mine."
Dr Azahari, killed by Indonesian authorities in 2005, is believed to have constructed the bombs used in the Bali attacks.

The 2002 Bali bombings on October 12, 2002, were carried out by members of JI, which was affiliated with al-Qa'ida via Hambali, who served as the link between the two groups.

Three of the plotters - Imam Samudra, Mukhlas and Amrozi - were executed for their role in the attacks by Indonesian authorities in 2008.

But US authorities have long maintained Hambali played a key role in the operation, with Mohammed even sending Hambali $US50,000 "because the Bali bombings had been a success".

"The money was to be used for the next operation and to help the families of the people arrested for the Bali operation," the report says.

Hambali is accused of funding the 2003 attack on the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12 people, as well as Christmas Eve church bombings across Indonesia that claimed 18 lives in 2000.

According to the US document, Hambali confessed to the church bombings while in US custody.

"He justified his actions because of the injustices being committed towards Muslims in Indonesia," Admiral Thomas writes.

The senior US official said that although the Bali case was weak, Hambali would still have to answer for other attacks when he was tried, either by a US military commission or civilian court.

"The strongest case is the Marriott bombing," the official said.

It is understood police from the Indonesian counter-terrorism unit Densus 88 were given extended access to Hambali at Guantanamo Bay in early 2009. He reportedly was co-operative, and grateful for the Sundanese food the officers brought him.

The Indonesian authorities are understood to share the view of US investigators that the case against Hambali for Bali 2002 is significantly weaker than for the Marriott Hotel 2003 and Christmas Eve 2000 bombings.

Two years ago, in an interview with the Jakarta Globe, convicted terror bombers Ali Imron and Mubarok said they were prepared to testify against Hambali if he was tried in Indonesia. By Paul Maley and Peter Alford for “The Australian”

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