Another Indonesian Militant's Arrest?

4 MINS READMar 31, 2011 | 18:24 GMT

The head of Indonesia's National Intelligence Agency said March 31 that Umar Patek, a top member of Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, was apprehended in Pakistan on Jan. 25 by Pakistani officers with the help of the United States. If the suspect in question is indeed Patek, the arrest is a sign of success for the international efforts to dismantle Southeast Asian militant networks, which have prompted militants to flee to other countries.

Indonesian National Intelligence Agency chief Sutanto asserted March 31 that high-ranking Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) member Umar Patek (aka Umar Arab) was apprehended in Pakistan on Jan. 25 by Pakistani officers with assistance from U.S. intelligence. Patek, a native of the Central Javan city of Pekalongan and of mixed Arab-Indonesian descent, is wanted in the United States and Australia for his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings. He also allegedly worked with notorious JI bombmaker Dulmatin to plan and build the bombs for the 2000 Christmas Day bombings in 38 cities around Indonesia as well as the Bali attack.

Currently, intelligence officers from both Indonesia's intelligence agency and the National Police are working to verify the suspect's identity, but Pakistani, Australian, U.S. and Indonesian officials all believe it is Patek. After his arrest by Pakistani authorities, Patek was questioned by U.S. intelligence and presumably provided a wealth of intelligence on Southeast Asian militant networks and their connections to Pakistan. Now he is being passed to Indonesian custody. If the suspect is in fact the JI member, it would be a sign that the already foundering militant group has eroded even further.

In addition, his capture in Pakistan years after most Indonesian militants fled the country in 2001 would indicate that international crackdowns on Southeast Asian militant networks have forced some back into the country where they can operate more freely. According to Pakistani and Indonesian officials, Patek was arrested during a Jan. 25 raid on suspected al Qaeda members in Pakistan based on a CIA tipoff. It is unclear if Patek was an actual target in the raid, but JI has a long history in Pakistan, where the group developed contact with Makhtab al-Khidmat, the first alliance of Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam in the 1980s prior to the formation of al Qaeda.

JI leaders Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar visited Pakistan in the 1980s and sent multiple recruits to Kurram agency and Paktia province for training, including some of the Bali planners. This is also where the group first established strong connections with Filipino militants who led the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf (the latter named after their camp sponsor in the badlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan).

While Patek was not part of the original Pakistani-trained group, his JI connections and the contacts he established when fleeing Indonesia for the Philippines in 2003 with Dulmatin would have provide him the assistance and cover needed to hide in Pakistan. While many JI militants continued to operate in Indonesia after the 2002 Bali bombings, Dulmatin and Patek were very high on the most-wanted list and wanted to establish training camps and networks in safer environments. Dulmatin was killed March 9, 2010, after returning to Indonesia. With Dulmatin dead, Patek has likely already provided a wealth of intelligence to the CIA through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate on the nexus between militants in Indonesia, the Philippines and Pakistan. With one more experienced bombmaker arrested, Indonesian militants are finding it hard to maintain relevance but are still able to carry out very low-level attacks. There are only a few core members still free, including Zulkarnaen, who was instrumental in establishing the Pakistan connection and is believed to be hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

According to STRATFOR sources, other wanted militants include Sibhgo, Taufik Bulaga and Reno (aka Teddy), all of whom are thought to have some bombmaking training from Azahari Husin, the Malaysian author of the JI bomb manual who was killed in Indonesia in 2005. The fact that Patek was found in Pakistan, while he was thought to be in the Philippines, shows that both Indonesia and the Philippines have put enough pressure on these groups that they have been forced to flee for less hostile environments. Nevertheless, the head of the Indonesian National Counter-Terrorism Agency, Ansyaad Mbai, said March 30 that other radical Islamist groups may move to adopt terrorist tactics. Indeed, this is Indonesia's main concern — a potential nexus between experienced former JI members and angry youths from groups like the Front Pembela Islam.

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