Monday, May 2, 2011

Indonesia’s Connections to Osama bin Laden Date Back 30 Years

News of the death of Osama bin Laden reverberated strongly in this corner of the world, particularly in Indonesia, where ties between Al Qaeda and local terrorist groups date back more than three decades.

It was the ideas of Jordan-born scholar Abdullah Azzam that would inspire many Muslims around the world to fight as volunteers against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Bin Laden met Azzam during his time as a student at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden, who was from a wealthy family, agreed to finance Azzam’s dream of setting up a camp for mujahedeen, or Islamic warriors, from around the world.

Another figure attracted to Azzam’s teachings was Abdullah Sungkar, a co-chairman of the Indonesian rebel group Darul Islam who later founded Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Southeast Asian terrorist network with the goal of unifying the region under one Islamic state.

At the beginning of the Soviet invasion, Sungkar was serving a four-year sentence for advocating against participating in Indonesian elections. Despite being incarcerated, he was able to recruit members of Darul Islam to be sent to Afghanistan.

Among the first to be sent to Afghanistan was Abu Rusdan, who would later become a JI leader; Muchlas, who later acted as the coordinator for the first Bali bombings in 2002; and Abu Tholut, later the financier behind several bombing in Indonesia.

The three men spent three years in Afghanistan, from 1981 to 1984, fighting the Soviets under the banner of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a supporter of Azzam who later led the Taliban.

Rusdan said they would meet Azzam and Bin Laden each Friday at his camp in Sadda, Afghanistan, but did not build a strong relationship with the pair.

It was another Indonesian, Hambali, who eventually secured the trust of Azzam and Bin Laden and established a close relationship with Ayman Al Zawahiri, who later became Bin Laden’s right-hand man after the establishment of Al Qaeda between 1988 and 1989.

When the war in Afghanistan ended in 1989, Sayyaf argued that the training camp should stay open and be used as a jihadist school for Muslims worldwide.

Bin Laden sought refuge in Sudan from 1992 to 1996. His Al Qaeda organization was responsible for attacks on American aid workers in Somalia in 1993 and the US Embassy in Kenya in 1998.

In Indonesia, Sungkar formed Jemaah Islamiah in 1992 with Abu Bakar Bashir, with whom he had established the Al Mu’min boarding school in Ngruki, Central Java, in 1972. Sungkar continued to send his disciples, all recruited from Al Mu’min, to Sayyaf’s training camp in Afghanistan.

They included Ali Imron, Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Dulmatin, who all participated in terror attacks here. They were all trained by Hambali, who would later help finance their bombings.

Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1998, where he was reunited with Sayyaf and Hambali. Hambali later became his middleman for contact with Jemaah Islamiyah and coordinated plans for the Bali bombings in 2002. Hambali was arrested in 2003 and sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Jakarta Globe

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