Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hambali: Mastermind of Terror

Prize Catch

According to an allegation made by another al Qaeda detainee in U.S. custody, Hambali was "assigned to recruit additional teams of hijackers to launch follow-up attacks on U.S. targets after 9/11." These allegations have since been corroborated by other intelligence sources with one senior official stating: "It is likely that he has extensive knowledge of former and current Jemaah Islamiah operations in the United States and elsewhere. He is a ruthless terrorist intent on killing as many Americans as possible. And in terms of Southeast Asia, he was the al Qaeda chieftain."

APEC logo
APEC logo

Bangkok officials also claim he was putting together a suicide squad for an attack on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference (APEC) which is to be held in their city in October, with U.S. President George W. Bush and other world leaders due to attend.

Following the capture of Hambali, other arrests will most likely follow. Bangkok police told reporters: "We have a list of many of his contacts, but we're waiting for the CIA to confirm if they match with the lists of JI operatives or not. If they do match, we'll work on it from this end."

Indonesia also wants to put Hambali on trial and Malaysian police are eager to question his wife to seek additional information on both JI and al Qaeda's activities there. Hambali is also alleged to have taken a second wife who is said to be Cambodian.

Commenting on the importance of Hambali's capture, Andrew Tan, a security analyst for the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore said: "Hambali is a key operational commander who has been involved in every major terrorist plot in the region. He was a charismatic figure who was able to convince Southeast Asians to be involved in suicide bombings, and that's no small thing."

Other analysts like Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group hope that Hambali will be hard to replace: "On the one hand, there are people who already have replaced Hambali in terms of strategizing and planning. But the question is whether there is someone who can play the role he did as a conduit for funding from the outside."

Another source within the Thai police said: "He's been working for quite some time. We don't know if he's got things set up for an attack or not and if the terrorist cells that he set up are still active. It is a mistake to think that Hambali's arrest will reduce the threat of terror in Southeast Asia although 200 JI operatives have been arrested, 500 to 1,000 members have gone through terrorist training. Others will step up to take the place of those arrested."

With Hambali's arrest, the United States and other interested parties were queuing up to question him on future targets, particularly inside the United States. With a JI "strike force" said to be armed and ready for attack, much attention has been given to the procurement of any relevant information.

After three months of intensive interrogation, the CIA had amassed more than 3,000 pages of questions and answers from a surprisingly loquacious Hambali. Keeping his location secret, the CIA refused to share information on or provide access to its prisoner until it had completed their questioning.

Hambali, passenger on plane
Hambali, passenger on plane

Among the information they gleaned was that the Israeli airlines check-in counter at Bangkok airport was a future target as was a Jewish travel agent and the Marriott Hotel in that city, sister hotel to the one previously targeted in Jakarta.

Map: Diego Garcia map
Map: Diego Garcia map

It wasn't until late November that the CIA revealed where they were keeping Hambali – a heavily fortified military installation known as Camp Justice on Britain's Diego Garcia, a tiny island about 600 miles from any major land mass.

Also in late November the Australian Federal Police's counter-terrorism unit was granted limited access to Hambali. They had drafted more than 200 questions and were more than anxious to question him regarding alleged JI cells operating within Australia.

While the CIA wouldn't allow the Australians direct access to the prisoner they agreed to "assist them in their investigations" by interrogating Hambali on their behalf.

Hambali told interviewers that the JI operation that administered Australia was "the least sophisticated and developed of all the four JI regions," as he and his associates had little success in establishing any kind of leverage within its borders and as such were almost totally ineffective in that country.

Bearing in mind that Hambali most likely supplied tons of misinformation intended to confuse and delay his captors, the interviews continued in the same vein and revealed that JI had enlisted the aid of "two Indonesians and a small network of followers" in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney to act as fundraisers for the cause.

Abdul Rahim Ayub
Abdul Rahim Ayub

They also learned that the Australian contingent had been overseen by Abdul Rahim Ayub, an Indonesian who was wanted by the Australian Federal Police since he fled Australia for Indonesia five days after the Bali bombings.

Hambali even went so far as to criticize JI's operatives in Australia stating that they "had not lived up to" the examples set by their brothers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.


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