Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hambali: Mastermind of Terror

The Hunt

Within hours of the Bali nightclub bombing the hunt for those responsible was on. Just days later a task force made up of more than a hundred specialists from around the world sifted through the wreckage looking for clues. While the forensic work progressed the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies did some sifting of its own, putting out feelers for any information as to who was responsible.

The obvious focus was on JI and the sinister masterminds behind it. Hambali's name quickly rose to the top of the list. Phone taps were put in place, informants were rounded up and questioned as the CIA, Australia's Federal Police and the Australia Security and Intelligence Organization (ASIO) formed an alliance and shared what information they had in an effort to find their man.

Twenty months and many thousands of reports later they finally got a break. An informant told the authorities that Hambali had left Indonesia and was heading through southern China en route to Thailand. Watching posts were set up and every conceivable entry point was monitored including the much-favored Burmese border, but he still managed to slip though unnoticed.

Luckily, along the way, their prey got sloppy. The investigating team discovered that whenever Hambali moved about he sought help from friends and allies, some of whom were well known to the police and intelligence agencies. The authorities were then able to monitor these contacts over several weeks and piece together a pattern.

Map: Ayutthaya, Thailand
Map: Ayutthaya, Thailand

Finally on August 11, in the ancient Thai city of Ayutthaya, about 40 miles north of Bangkok, the hunt came to an end. Hambali had been located two weeks before at an apartment complex and kept under close surveillance to learn more about his associates before the trap was finally sprung. When 20 uniformed and undercover Thai police officers burst in on Hambali's one-bedroom apartment, they found the terrorist, his wife and a large amount of money, allegedly supplied by al Qaeda.

Ironically, when arrested, Hambali was wearing a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, a baseball cap, and a pair of sunglasses, the epitome of the western civilization he supposedly despised. He had also undergone plastic surgery and was clean shaven. Police also seized firearms and explosives from the apartment, an indication that he may have been planning some sort of operation even though he was still on the run.

Riduan Isamuddin
Riduan Isamuddin

Following the arrest, U.S. intelligence sources named the capture as one of the most significant since 9/11, stating that he was not only the "operational mastermind" of Al Qaeda's Southeast Asian network, he was also "Osama bin Laden's most senior representative in the region." As well as having been implicated in planning the 9/11 attacks and the Bali nightclub attack, he also has been named as the man behind "numerous other deadly terrorist incidents," including the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta on August 5 that killed 12 people.


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