Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hambali: Mastermind of Terror

Chosen Path

Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.
                                          Paul Wilkinson - British scholar


What transforms a devout Islamic scholar into a dangerous and bloody-minded terrorist? In the case of Hambali, it may have been the radical teachings of his mentors, or perhaps it was his reaction to what he perceived as the "religious repression" of his native Indonesia throughout the 1970s and '80s. Either way he would eventually emerge as the most dangerous modern terrorist since Osama bin Laden and become a master at devising and commanding murderous attacks that would send shockwaves through Southeast Asia and the western world.

Hambali, named after Imam Hambali, an 8th Century Islamic saint, was born Encep Nurjaman on April 4, 1966, in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia. Some confusion exists as to his real name: He is also known as Riduan Isamuddin, Riduan Isamudin, Riduan Isomuddin, and Riduan Isomudin.

He was the second of 13 children in a family that fought poverty on a daily basis. He was introduced to Jemaah Islamiah (JI) as a teenager and became a serious student at his Islamic high school, Al-I'anah. Through JI he became involved in a broad range of activities which, although radical by intent, were hardly considered life threatening. Initially his involvement with JI was intended simply to expand on his education and make him a complete Muslim and loyal devotee to his chosen faith.

Jemaah Islamiah translates as "Islamic community," and is a network of like-minded individuals rather than one tight-knit group. Hambali would eventually seek to change that. JI itself evolved from a loose alliance of Islamic fundamentalists who were violently opposed to the "decadence and corruption" of the Western world.

In 1969, one senior member of the group named Abu Bakar Bashir began spreading a particularly radical brand of Islamic extremism called Darul Islam or "Islamic Indonesia."

Abu Bakar Bashir, recent
Abu Bakar Bashir, recent

The teachings behind Darul Islam weren't exactly new; they had circulated throughout much of Southeast Asia during the 1950s. The basic tenet is revolt, armed or otherwise, against the oppression of the Islamic faith by whatever government was in power at the time. The ultimate aim is to overthrow the oppressors and create Islamic fundamentalist regimes in their place. The sporadic uprisings that followed were put down by the relevant authorities who were far superior in numbers and firepower than the "poor and oppressed" peoples of the region who made up these ragtag bands of would-be revolutionaries.

Seemingly unperturbed, Bashir and his followers, including Hambali, withdrew into exile to regroup. They created a pirate radio station to sell Darul Islam to the masses in the hope of building an even stronger following.

Although poor, Bashir's followers were obviously affluent enough to afford radios as the message was heard far and wide and accepted by much of the "oppressed" populace. Encouraged by this renewed interest, Bashir soon amassed enough support to open a "specialist" school in Java, whose motto was, "Death in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration."

Again Bashir tried to renew his dream of revolution and organized new uprisings only to be captured and imprisoned for his efforts. He escaped in 1982 after several years' detention hoping that his "revolution" would have grown exponentially during his absence. This, however, was not the case. The only thing that had grown was his hatred of the authorities that he held responsible for the group's demise.


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