By Martin Chulov in Jakarta
July 17, 2004
THE man considered last year to be one of the 10 most dangerous people in Indonesia wanted to meet at a Starbucks cafe. He chose to eat with us at a nearby Hindu restaurant and warmly shook hands with our female Christian translator.
This was not the face of Islamic extremism that South-East Asia has come to know. But for Indonesia's counter-terrorism police, it's precisely the direction in which it should head.
On a steamy evening in Jakarta last week, Mohammed Nassir bin Abbas, one of Jemaah Islamiah's four regional chiefs, strode into a franchise of the global coffee giant for a three-hour conversation that amounted to a purge of his conscience and a bold attempt to sell his case to the West.
Last April, shortly after his arrest in West Java, Nassir became what until then had eluded authorities - a rollover on JI, the organisation that he had served as a militant and key organiser for the previous five years. In the 15 months since, 10 of which the Malay-born Nassir spent on easy street in jail on immigration charges, Indonesia has learned more about JI's players and their provenance, its structure and methods.
Nassir has so far given up a veritable blueprint of a terror group. He also is Indonesia's best chance yet to serve up the scalp of firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, whom many believe has furtively sat atop the organisation for at least the past decade. Such is his value, he is free to come and go as he pleases from Jakarta's central police station, he is offered financial assistance and he takes prayer with the Indonesian police counter-terrorism chief, General Pranowo. Nassir hopes that, because of his help, he may even be spared jail time if and when he returns to his native Malaysia. However this, he says, is not the main motivator for his co-operation.
"I am doing this because it's the truth," Nassir says. "I have realised that where we were at was not the way. The important thing for me is telling the truth, being honest and ignoring others' interests."
The others Nassir refers to are, predictably, the band of Islamic brothers he used to call friends and fellow mujaheddin. In his time as chief of one of four regions, known as Mantiqi 3, Nassir was responsible for an area covering northern Indonesia and parts of his homeland.
In addition to recruiting ideologues to the cause, his main job was to smuggle people and weapons to and from an Islamic militant training camp in the southern Philippines known as Camp Abu Bakar. The camp is run by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the third leg of a regional troika attempting to install a Taliban-like sharia law across the Indonesian archipelago and through the southern half of the Catholic-dominated Philippines.
Nassir tells Inquirer he helped smuggle up to 400 people, mainly Indonesians and Malays, to the camp for weapons and spiritual training to equip them for a jihad operation.
The smuggling route he provided managed to outsmart the Indonesian and Philippines armies during the whole time he called the shots. According to Nassir, the smuggling route he used for people and weapons started at Palu in Sulawesi. From there it was to Nunukan Island by ferry and to Tawau Island by speedboat.
The route then went overland to Sabah and to Sandakan. A ferry was once again used to get to Bongao and then a ferry once more to Zamboanga city. From there the militants were taken into the camps along well-established jungle paths.
In 1996, near Camp Abu Bakar, Nassir says he met an Australian man, Abdul Rahim Ayub, who has not been heard from since he attended a JI regional meeting on October 17, 2002, in Tawangamangu, central Java.
That meeting, five days after the Bali bombings, was the last time Nassir saw Ayub, but it was seminal for a far more important reason - it led to Nassir turning on his comrades.
"I kept saying to Mukhlas: 'Who did this thing in Bali, are you responsible for this?"' Nassir says, describing his conversation with one of the key Bali bombers. "He looked at me and smiled and said: 'Are you suspicious of me?"'
Two days later, Mukhlas took his brother-in-law Nassir aside. "He said to me that he and the brothers [Ali Imron and Amrozi bin Nurhasyim] were responsible for this.
"I knew right then that this was not the way. Jihad is not like that, it is about protecting Islam if it is under attack," Nassir says.
The five M-16 assault rifles he admits to smuggling from the southern Philippines and the many others smuggled by those he sent on missions were for use in places such as Ambon where Muslims had come under attack, he says.
One close friend arrested last week in central Java, named Mustaqim, lived for six years until recently on the border of Camp Abu Bakar. He headed the military department of Majelis Mujahadin Indonesia and ran the military academy in Mindanao, the southern Philippines, from 1997 to 2000.
"I know him well," Nassir says. "It is not true what is being said about him. He is a good man."
Nassir was prepared to overlook Mukhlas's deeds at the time, offering to hide him in his home in Sulawesi while police hunted him. Nassir also turned up at the next JI regional meeting in Bogor, West Java, on April 6, 2003. There he met another man linked to Australia, Abdul Rahman Ayub, the twin brother of Abdul Rahim (named by Jack Roche as leaders of a JI cell in Western Australia).
By then JI was on the run, with police having rounded up the bulk of the Bali bombers and scattered those responsible for supporting other acts of terror across Indonesia. The meeting discussed providing support to the families of those jailed. But little else made it on to the agenda. Several days later, Nassir was arrested.
Soon, possibly within weeks, Nassir will be asked to deliver on all he has promised so far, when the elderly cleric he once revered goes on trial for terrorism.
Charged two months ago with involvement in many of the bombings and other terrorist acts that have occurred across the archipelago during the past 10 years, Bashir will face by far the most rigorous test of his credibility when one of his young turks looks him in the eye and turns on him.
"I was appointed by Abu Bakar Bashir at a Mantiqi meeting in April 2001," Nassir says. "I still think he is a good man." Asked if he would like to meet Bashir again, Nassir says: "I think I would at the appropriate time."
Bashir's surprise arrest - a legacy of lingering suspicions among Indonesian police and direct pressure from the US Government - hangs on Nassir's evidence. However, police have a few more cards up their sleeves. One of them is contrite Bali bomber Ali Imron, who has been moved from the Bali prison where his two brothers shun him to a cell in Jakarta's main police complex. There he has been co-operating further with senior counter-terrorism officer Gores Mere - described as Devil, or Dog, by Mukhlas and Amrozi.
Ali Imron also has been afforded a level of comfort not usually granted to those on life sentences. Last week his wife and two young daughters, dressed from head to toe in traditional Islamic garb, arrived to meet him for an extended time in a police interview room. Little is known about what Ali Imron has to offer about Bashir, but his kid-gloves treatment indicates police are expecting big things, especially about Bashir's long-mooted direct links to the Bali attacks.
Police have strongly explored Amrozi's links to Bashir in the months before October 12, 2002, and have taken records from village chief Maksun, from Amrozi's home town of Tenggulun, which show that Bashir tried to enter the village to meet with the brothers five times during the six months before. On two occasions he was turned away.
Within six months, Indonesia and the rest of South-East Asia will be able to conclude whether the beast that is JI has been slain or will rise again.
Bashir's upcoming trial is by far the most significant step in determining that. Like a Teflon man, he has so far shrugged off all attempts to pin him as anything more than an elderly firebrand who espouses a better life for Muslims through radical teachings.
Bashir has long been able to capitalise on the theological no-man's-land in which he operates - a zone somewhere between outright political patronage and nation building. He will never be an easy target.
Source: The Australian
Ps: Somehow, that not so easy for me to believe such a nice detailed fabricated strory. Very good attempt from Local Interpol to produced this interesting (so adventurous and dramatic) event for the sake of "ANTI TERRORISM" action. Bravo for BIG Brother puppet master.