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Academic confident that the terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, masterminded the attack on Bali.



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VIVIAN SCHENKER: Indonesian police have summoned Abu Bakir Bashir, leader of the Islamic group, Jemaah Islamiah, for interrogation in relation to having links to terrorism. Authorities in Malaysia and Singapore have also arrested a number of suspects linked to JI over the past two days. It has been described as the main suspect behind the Bali bombing but its leader denies any involvement in the attack.

 

One person who has no doubt Jemaah Islamiah masterminded the attack is Rohan Gunaratna, a research fellow at the Centre for Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He cites documents of an American interrogation of an al-Qaeda member who claimed explosives were bought from Indonesian army officers and paid for in cash sent from Saudi Arabia. Tim Latham reports.

 

TIM LATHAM: Rohan Gunaratna is a Sri Lankan born author of six books on armed conflict. He is best known for his latest, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror . According to his bio, he is also a former investigator with the United Nations Terrorism Prevention Branch. With these credentials, he gets a good run in the media, and in this climate of terrorism and shadowy figures experts are in hot demand. Unlike some analysts who say it is too early to point the finger, Rohan Gunaratna pulls no punches. He says Jemaah Islamiah is the only group capable of this attack, that the Indonesian government has long had gold-plated evidence against it and that there is no distinction between al-Qaeda and Jemaah—they are, in effect, the same group.

 

It is difficult to verify any of these claims or how much weight should be given to one over another, but Rohan Gunaratna—in Singapore for a conference—has no doubts.

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: We have examined about 30 terrorist organisations that are active in South-East Asia and the only group that has the intention and the capability—that is, the operational experience and the expertise to conduct a professional terrorist operation of this scale and magnitude—is Jemaah Islamiah.

 

TIM LATHAM: But is there any evidence, at the moment, or is it just the group’s track record?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: The group’s track record as well as the recent intelligence we have received that Omar Farouk who is an al-Qaeda senior leader in South-East Asia is detained in Afghanistan, and he revealed to the American interrogators before the Bali incident that $73,000 was wired from a Saudi sheikh, Sheikh Abu Abdullah El-Mati, and this money was wired to Abu Bakar Bashir, the head of Jemaah Islamiah, who is currently in Indonesia. And Abu Bakar Bashir purchased explosives from corrupt elements of the military to conduct a series of terrorist operations of which we have seen the first major terrorist attack.

 

TIM LATHAM: This evidence has come out from questioning of Omar Farouk by the Americans, is that correct?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: Yes, and Omar Farouk is a senior member of al-Qaeda and he is currently cooperating with the US authorities, and all the information that he has provided up to now has proved to be correct.

 

TIM LATHAM: Is there any indication from the questioning of Omar Farouk that he was privy to or knew of the Bali bombing?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: No, absolutely not, but he was privy to other operational plans of JI in Indonesia and outside Indonesia.

 

TIM LATHAM: And have they been verified?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: Yes.

 

TIM LATHAM: Have you seen the documents from the American interrogation of Omar Farouk?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: Yes. I am privy to documentation pertaining to his interrogation.

 

TIM LATHAM: And did it specify that this money was used to purchase explosives?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: Yes. It specifically said that the money was used by Abu Bakar Bashir to purchase explosives from corrupt elements of the TNI or the military of Indonesia.

 

TIM LATHAM: Is this the first time to your knowledge that there has been a financial link between someone in Saudi Arabia and Jemaah Islamiah?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: Absolutely not. Saudi sources have been funding al-Qaeda for a long, long time, and it does not surprise us. We have been monitoring a number of other transactions from the Gulf countries to this region over the years.

 

TIM LATHAM: So you don’t pay any credence to the denials by Abu Bakar Bashir about the explosion and about the group’s involvement, if any?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: Abu Bakar Bashir is a deceptive and a deceitful man. He is like Osama bin Laden. When American embassies were attacked in East Africa, USS Cole was attacked off Yemen, and when 9/11 occurred, Osama bin Laden initially denied all involvement with those operations. So Abu Bakar Bashir is exactly like Osama bin Laden. The Islamist terrorist leaders always deny.

 

TIM LATHAM: If you think the evidence is this powerful for you to make this claim, why haven’t we seen any action from the Indonesian authorities?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: The Indonesian authorities have been reluctant to act against Jemaah Islamiah, even after the Jemaah Islamiah network was detected and disrupted in Singapore when they planned to bomb four diplomatic targets, including the Australian High Commission. Also Jemaah Islamiah network was disrupted in Malaysia and in the Philippines, but the Indonesians have been reluctant to destroy this network because of political and personal reasons.

 

TIM LATHAM: The Indonesian government, as you are aware, says they have no evidence against Abu Bakar Bashir, so how do you think they can move against him if he is, indeed, involved?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: The Indonesian government is playing games because the Indonesian government has been presented with gold standard evidence by the Malaysian, Singaporean, Philippines and the US governments of Abu Bakar Bashir’s involvement in JI, not only as its political, spiritual and ideological leader but also a man who has a knowledge of operations and involvement in certain terrorist operations.

 

TIM LATHAM: So the Indonesian government, when it says it doesn’t have any evidence, you are saying that’s incorrect, that it does?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: Yes, absolutely. It is incorrect.

 

TIM LATHAM: And how long has the government been privy to this evidence?

 

ROHAN GUNARATNA: Since December 2001; since the al-Qaeda plan to attack a number of targets in Singapore was discovered.

 

VIVIAN SCHENKER: Rohan Gunaratna from the Centre for Terrorism and Political Violence at Scotland’s University of St Andrews, and he was speaking to Tim Latham.