Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Hambali targeted embassies, not APEC summit

TERRORISM The Indonesian who is allegedly al-Qaeda's point man in Asia was actually planning attacks on a number of embassies in Bangkok, the Thai prime minister said

AP AND DPA , BANGKOK AND KUALA LUMPUR

Thailand yesterday confirmed that before his arrest, Asian terrorist mastermind suspect Hambali had been plotting attacks on the embassies of the US, Australia and Israel in Bangkok.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Hambali, who was nabbed on Aug. 11 in the central city of Ayutthaya, was targeting the embassies rather than an upcoming Asia-Pacific leaders' summit, as earlier believed.

Thaksin confirmed a report Thursday in The Australian newspaper, which quoted two of Hambali's interrogators, who are Asians, as saying that he had the embassies in his sights.

"In the initial interrogation right after his arrest he said" that he wanted to attack the embassies, Thaksin said.

Thai officials, including Thaksin and his deputy prime minister, had initially said that Hambali, the Asian pointman of al-Qaeda, was plotting to sabotage the Oct. 20 to Oct. 21 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit, which US President George W. Bush will attend.

But Thaksin said yesterday he had been misquoted and misunderstood.

"I told you [reporters] that he did not target the APEC summit. I said that his men went to inspect sensitive locations -- US Australian and Israeli interests."

Thaksin appeared to backtrack on his earlier claim that Hambali's network has been eliminated in Thailand, saying "it is possible that some of Hambali's men are still hiding along the common border between Thailand and Malaysia."

Hambali, an Indonesian whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, is believed to be the operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda linked group blamed for a series of bombing attacks in Southeast Asia.

Among them are the Oct. 12 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia, the Aug. 5 bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta and several attacks in the Philippines. He's also been linked to the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.

He is in US custody and is being interrogated at a secret location by investigators of the CIA, Thailand and possibly other Asian countries.

The Australian newspapers said Hambali had lived in Thailand for most of the past 18 months, regularly traveling between the southern province of Narathiwat and Bangkok. Thaksin had earlier said that Hambali came to Thailand about one month before his arrest.

Narathiwat was the home of three Thais alleged to be Jemaah Islamiyah members who were arrested in May, following the arrest of a Singaporean, Arifin bin Ali, in Bangkok. Police recovered from them a tourist map with the embassies of Australia, US, Israel, United Kingdom circled.

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