(Straights Times) They are the men who keep counter-terrorism experts awake at night, only too aware that a strike is being plotted even as you read this report.
They are the region’s top targets, whom the authorities are struggling to nab and neutralise.
Top of the list is bomb-maker Azahari Husin, 47.
The hunt for him was stepped up after the bombing outside the Australian Embassy bombing in south Jakarta last month. Indonesian security officials fear he might be poised to launch another strike.
The former university professor – who turned away from the academic life after hearing sermons from Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir in the 1990s – is believed to have prepared the bombs for the Bali attack and masterminded the Marriott Hotel strikes.
He has been aided by his key lieutenant, Noordin Mohamad Top, 34, described as a ‘whiz’ in hiring and preparing militants for martyrdom – or suicide bombings.
Noordin found time to take a break in June to marry his second wife – Munfiatun – while still on the run before leaving her the following month to prepare for the Australian Embassy attacks.
Security officials worry that Azahari has broken with the region’s most dreaded group – Jemaah Islamiah – to form his own more radical splinter group.
The latter is at odds with those within the JI who slammed the recent attacks which left mostly Indonesians dead.
Like Azahari, others too seem to have formed breakaway terror cells of their own.
According to Ms Sidney Jones, who heads the South-east Asian office of the International Crisis Group and has brought out numerous reports on the JI, the fragmented nature of the outfit poses the real challenge.
A study of the former JI group shows that at every level, individual members had formed their own linkages, which they can now tap into.
For the south Jakarta bombing for instance, those close to Azahari found recruits from outside the JI network – Heri Golun, the lone suicide bomber, belonged to the homegrown Darul Islam movement that was active in the 1950s.
New leaders have also emerged but command lines through the organisation are not very clear.
The groups that now operate are smaller and amorphous and function almost autonomously.
This poses its own problems.
In August last year, a man named Syahroni who heads the military operations of the Jakarta cell was planning to bomb a Bank Central Asia office in the capital, unaware that Azahari was planning the Marriott attack at the same time.
With central command seemingly lacking now, it is difficult for investigators to figure out where the nerve centre lies.
‘JI is in ruins now,’ says Nasir Abbas, one of the outfit’s regional leaders who is trying to help the Indonesian police in their investigations.
‘Anybody who was a JI member is no longer claiming to be a JI member now.
‘Azahari and Noordin are the most dangerous, but even they don’t say they are part of JI now.
‘There is no management, no administration any more,’ he told The Straits Times.
According to Ms Jones, one of the most important divisions of JI is perhaps being led by Abu Dujanah, who was the secretary of the JI central command.
After the Marriott bombing, Azahari and Noordin reported to him, she said.
Reports say Abu Dujanah was the director of a key JI institution known as the Al Ikhlas Institution Foundation at Gading in Solo, Central Java. It runs an Islamic university called Mahad Ali al-Ikhlas.
Previously, he helped hide Singapore JI members accused of planning attacks on United States interests in the city state.
Others tracking the network believe Zulkarnaen or Aris Sumarsono, JI’s top military trainer from Solo and a key member of the outfit’s central command, could be the outfit’s new leader, which puts them on the most-wanted list as well.
But JI apart, there are other concerns in the region.
In the Philippines, there is worry that the Abu Sayyaf group – till now a kidnap-and-ransom gang – is getting increasingly radicalised and turning towards terrorism.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has now publicly acknowledged that the bombing of SuperFerry 14 while on its way from Manila to Bacolod and Davao on Feb 26 was the work of Abu Sayyaf. She had initially said that it was the work of ‘pranksters’.
The mastermind, whose real name is Redondo Cain Cain Dellosa, has confessed that he was behind the bombing, the third most significant terrorist strike in the region after the Bali and Marriott attacks and the first on high seas.
In southern Thailand, terrorism seems to be taking root in an area that has been plagued by a separatist problem this far – seemingly influenced by developments in the region and beyond.
In a well-coordinated operation on April 28 this year, some 200 insurgents armed with knives and a few firearms launched assaults on 12 police and army posts across the three provinces of Yala, Pattani and Songkhla.
The stand-off left 108 attackers and five government personnel dead.
Noted Jane’s Intelligence Review: ‘Whereas operations till then had been conducted with a view to minimise insurgent losses, 28 April was evidently planned and coordinated as a high-intensity opera- tion almost certain to cause casualties.’
Those who participated were psychologically prepared if not for suicide operations, then at least for a high probability of death, it said.
TOMORROW A LOOK AT THE REGION’S TOP TERROR HOTSPOTS
Most Wanted: JI
Azahari bin Husin
HE WAS the idealistic lecturer committed to improving the lives of Malaysians. But after coming under the influence of radical Muslims, his life’s mission changed and he now tops the region’s list of most wanted terrorists.
He trained himself in the Philippines and then in Afghanistan. Police believe he played a key role in all the three bombings in Indonesia after 9/11.
A FORMER biology student who figures among those from the region who trained in Afghanistan. He stepped in late last year as JI operations chief, replacing Hambali after his August arrest.
The top military trainer is a member of JI’s central command.
ANOTHER top new JI figure, the Malaysian electronics expert is believed to have designed the bomb used in the 2002 Bali attack that killed more than 200 people.
Dulmatin was reportedly a used-car salesman before turning to terrorism.
Noordin Mohammed Top
AZAHARI’S top lieutenant is known for his skills in recruiting suicide bombers.
Indonesian police’s General Pranowo says that Noordin’s ability to recruit is remarkable because he cannot speak Arabic.
BELIEVED to be the new leader of JI’s most important division. Some say he has replaced cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.
Former secretary of the JI central command, he reportedly has Azahari and Noordin reporting to him.
Most Wanted: Abu Sayyaf
Khadafi Abubakar Janjalani
HE BECAME the leader of Abu Sayyaf following the 1998 killing of his older brother, Abdurajak Janjalani, the group’s founder. He is in his 30s and is also known by his aliases Moktar and Abu Moktar.
Former American hostage Gracia Burnham, in her book In The Presence Of My Enemies, said he raped a nurse who was seized from a hospital raided by Abu Sayyaf rebels on June 2, 2001.
Isnilon Totoni Hapilon
HE IS second-in-command of the Abu Sayyaf.
He is also known as ‘Musab’ or ‘Abu Musab’.
Hapilon took nurse Ediborah Yap, who was killed during a bloody rescue attempt in June 2002, for himself.
Jainal Antel Sali Jr
HE ONCE served as the prime liaison with American hostages Martin and Gracia Burnham due to his education and command of English.
Sali, from a wealthy family, is believed to be the group’s spokesman.
Most Wanted: Thailand
Chegu Mail Kutih
THAI police have posted a reward of 100,000 baht (S$4,000) for information leading to his arrest. He is believed to be a leader of the GMIP Pattani group and is accused of mobilising weapons for the rebels.
A REBEL group leader, he is currently believed to be hiding in Kuala Lumpur. Vaehama has been charged with an attempt to kill and attempt to hijack.