Profile: Imam Samudra
a.k.a. Abdul Aziz, Qudama, Kudama, Fatih, Fat, Abu Umar, Heri
Imam Samudra was a participant or observer in the following events:
Hambali, an important future al-Qaeda leader, moves to the village of Sungai Manggis, Malaysia, about an hour north of the capital of Kuala Lumpur. Hambali is from nearby Indonesia and fought in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s. He starts off poor, working at odd jobs, but soon is frequently traveling and has many overseas visitors. Intriguingly, Hambali’s landlord will later say of Hambali’s visitors, “Some looked Arab and others white.” Hambali plays a major role in the 1995 Bojinka plot in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995), and after that plot is foiled he continues to live in his simple Sungai Manggis house. [Time, 4/1/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Living near Hambali in this village are other regional Islamist militant leaders such as Abdullah Sungkar, Imam Samudra (allegedly a key figure in the 2000 Christmas bombings (see December 24-30, 2000) and the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002)), Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah, and Abu Jibril. So many militants live in this village that it becomes known as “Terror HQ” to intelligence agencies. Sungkar and Bashir are considered the two most well-known militant leaders in Southeast Asia at the time (Sungkar dies of old age in 1999). Hambali’s house is directly across from Bashir’s and they are considered friends. [Tempo, 10/29/2002; Ressa, 2003] Interestingly, Fauzi Hasbi, an Indonesian government mole posing as a militant leader, lives next door to Bashir as well. [SBS Dateline, 10/12/2005] Despite his role in the Bojinka plot, Hambali continues to live there very openly. Beginning in March 1995, just two months after the plot was foiled, Hambali throws his first feast for several hundred guests to mark a Muslim holiday. This becomes an annual party. He also sometimes travels to Indonesia. [Time, 4/1/2002] By May 1999, if not earlier, the FBI connects Hambali to the Bojinka plot (see May 23, 1999). In January 2000, he attends a key al-Qaeda summit in nearby Kuala Lumpur. The CIA gets pictures and video footage of him at the meeting and already has pictures of him from a computer linked to the Bojinka plot (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5, 2000). However, there is no apparent effort to apprehend him, extradite him, or even put him on a public wanted list. He continues to live in Sungai Manggis until at least late 2000. [Conboy, 2003]
An explosion lights up the sky on the island of Bali, Indonesia. [Source: Agence France-Presse]A car bomb detonates in front of a discotheque at Kuta Beach, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, starting a fire that rages through a dozen buildings. A backpack-mounted device carried by a suicide bomber explodes in another Kuta Beach discotheque. 202 people are killed and 209 are injured. Eighty-eight of those killed are Australian, while most of the rest are Indonesian. A much smaller device explodes outside the US consulate in nearby Denpasar, causing only minor damage and no casualties. No group claims responsibility, but Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia, is believed to be behind the bombings. [New York Times, 10/13/2002; New York Times, 10/14/2002; BBC, 2/19/2003] Hambali, a key leader in both al-Qaeda and JI, is said to have been involved. He will be arrested in 2003 and taken into US custody (see August 12, 2003). [Chicago Tribune, 12/7/2003] Three alleged JI operatives, Ali Gufron (a.k.a. Mukhlas), Imam Samudra, and Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, will be arrested in Indonesia and sentenced to death in 2003 for their roles in the Bali bombings. Ali Imron, brother to both Gufron and Amrozi, will be sentenced to life in prison. [New York Times, 9/19/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2003] JI operatives Dulmatin, Azhari Husin, and Noordin Mohammed Top also are said to have major roles in the bombings. Husin will be killed in a police shootout in 2005, while Dulmatin and Top remain at large (see October 6, 2005 and After). It will later turn out that the US was given a “stunningly explicit and specific” advanced warning that Hambali and JI were planning to attack nightclubs in Bali (see August 21, 2002).
On November 2, 2002, only three weeks after the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002), the Australian and Indonesian teams investigating the attacks say they have finished their initial forensic analysis of the bomb site. One forensic team member says, “We have all we need to nail these bad guys down.” [New York Times, 11/2/2002; Jakarta Post, 1/3/2003] That same day, investigators get their first big break when they discover the vehicle identification number of the chassis of the van used by some of the bombers. [BBC, 12/3/2002] The first arrest of an officially suspected bomber, Amrozi, takes place on November 5. He had bought the van. He immediately confesses to taking part in the bombings. Other arrests, including the arrest of an alleged mastermind of the bombings, Imam Samudra, follow in the next weeks and months. [Jakarta Post, 1/3/2003] Most Balinese are Hindu, and on November 15, the island holds a large public Hindu ritual purifying the bomb sites. The next day, bulldozers begin dumping the debris into the ocean, and they dump all the bomb site wreckage into the ocean over the next several days. [Jakarta Post, 11/17/2002; New York Times, 5/4/2003] Robert S. Finnegan, editor for the English-language Jakarta Post newspaper, will later sarcastically comment on how quickly the investigators finished their on-site work: “Astounding work, as it must have set a world record for crime scene forensic analysis.” He will also note, “Given the scope of the bombing and the sheer size of the primary and secondary blast areas - where traces from a plethora of different explosive compounds were swabbed from - this was a feat that escaped even the vaunted investigators working the World Trade Center [9/11] crime scene in New York, who spent nearly a year literally sifting by hand for evidence at the site.” [Jakarta Post, 1/3/2003]
Damage to a restaurant in Kuta, Bali, in 2005. [Source: Associated Press]Three suicide bombers blow themselves up in restaurants on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Twenty-two people are killed and over 100 are injured. No group takes credit for the bombings, but Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia, is widely blamed. Several days later, Indonesian police announce they are searching for five men linked to Imam Samudra, who has been sentenced to death for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). Three of the five had already served jail sentences for holding explosives linked to Samudra and were under police surveillance but somehow escaped. The Indonesian government also blames Noordin Mohammed Top and Azhari Husin for masterminding the bombing. [CNN, 10/5/2005] The two men had been members of JI and acted on direction from al-Qaeda, but JI’s leadership has largely been destroyed through arrests and killings, and it is believed they now form ad hoc groups to carry out new attacks. [New York Times, 10/7/2005] Husin is killed in a raid on his hideout in Java two months later, but Top remains at large. One year later, it will be revealed that a computer laptop and a cell phone were smuggled to Samudra in his death row prison cell several months before the bombings, and he raised funds and communicated with the bombers while remaining imprisoned. An unnamed prison warden will reportedly be detained for helping Samudra get the laptop, but no one will be tried for any involvement in the bombings. [London Times, 8/24/2006; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/24/2006]
Abdurrahman Wahid. [Source: Indonesian Embassy in the Netherlands]In an interview with the Australian public television station SBS, Abdurrahman Wahid, president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001, suggests that the country’s military or police may have been behind the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). The Australian reports: “Wahid told SBS’s Dateline program that he had grave concerns about links between Indonesian authorities and terrorist groups and believed that authorities may have organized the larger of the two 2002 Bali bombings which hit the Sari Club, killing the bulk of the 202 people who died.… Asked who he thought planted the Sari Club bomb, Mr Wahid said: ‘Maybe the police… or the armed forces. The orders to do this or that came from within our armed forces, not from the fundamentalist people.’” Wahid believes the smaller bomb was indeed planted by Islamist militants. [SBS Dateline, 10/12/2005; Australian, 10/13/2005] Counterterrorism expert John Mempi also comments, “Why this endless violence [in Indonesia]? Why are there acts of terrorism year in, year out? Regimes change, governments change, but violence continues. Why? Because there is a sort of shadow state in this country. A state within a state ruling this country.” [SBS Dateline, 10/12/2005] In 2008, Imam Samudra, imprisoned and sentenced to death for being one of the Bali bombings masterminds, will make comments similar to Wahid’s. While he admits being involved in the bombings, he claims that they never meant to kill so many people. He says the second explosion was much bigger than they had expected and suggests that “the CIA or KGB or Mossad” had somehow tampered with the bomb. [Sunday Times (London), 3/2/2008]
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