Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Police lucky to land key al-Qaeda man, newspaper claims


A series of lucky breaks led to the capture of Asia's most wanted terrorist suspect, Hambali, including the discovery of an apartment key in the pocket of a close aide arrested earlier, The Nation newspaper reported Thursday.

Hambali, the alleged mastermind of al-Qaeda's bombing campaign in Asia, was arrested in Thailand on Aug. 11. He is being interrogated at a secret location now by US authorities.

The Nation report could not be independently verified. The English-language daily was the first to report Hambali's arrest on Aug. 15, and has been covering the investigation closely.

The Nation said Thai security forces were not even looking for Hambali, a 39-year-old Indonesian who allegedly heads the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah. But the trail to Hambali was exposed after Thai security forces arrested a Malaysian national suspected of being an al-Qaeda associate or sympathizer, it said, quoting an unidentified security source.

"He was a small potato," the source said.

But interrogation of that suspect, who was not named, led to the arrest of another Malaysian man, known as Li-Li, believed to be a senior member of al-Qaeda and a close aide of Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin.

Li-Li refused to reveal anything until interrogators happened to see in his pocket a door key with a tag bearing the name of an apartment block in the ancient and historic temple city of Ayutthaya, 80km north of Bangkok.

Li-Li then revealed that Hambali was living in that apartment block, The Nation said. Within four hours of Li-Li's detention, a force comprising Thai and US agents swooped down on Hambali's one-room apartment and took him away after a violent struggle, the source was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Hambali has told his interrogators that he was waiting for a new fake passport and that he had no plans to sabotage the Asia-Pacific leaders' summit scheduled to be held in Bangkok Oct. 20 to 21, the report said. Thai officials have said he was plotting an attack on the summit, which is expected to be attended by at least 20 world leaders, including US President George W. Bush.

Hambali is believed to have come into the country more than a month ago with a fake Spanish passport from a northern border crossing, apparently from neighboring Laos.

He is the suspected mastermind of a string of suicide and other bombings in Asia including the Oct. 12 last year, nightclub destruction in Bali, Indonesia that killed 202 people, and the Aug. 5 attack at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta that killed 12. Hambali also allegedly had a role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

He is wanted in several countries including Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

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