A CIA tip-off led to the arrest in Pakistan of the main Indonesian suspect in the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, Pakistani security officials said on Wednesday, but it was not clear whether the US would get access to the militant.
The officials did not say where or when Umar Patek, a deputy commander of al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah, was detained. However, the Philippine army, which has also been hunting him, said he was picked up in Pakistan on Jan. 25 alongside a Pakistani associate assumed to have been harboring him.
The arrest of Patek, who has a US$1 million price tag on his head, ends a 10-year international manhunt and is a major achievement in the global fight against al-Qaeda and its offshoots.
If he cooperates, the 40-year-old militant could give valuable intelligence on the current state of the extremist organization and its hardy affiliates in Southeast Asia.
However, questions remain over how he was able to travel to Pakistan undetected and what he was doing in the country, which continues to attract foreign militants seeking contact with al-Qaeda leaders based there, especially in the northwest close to Afghanistan.
Indonesian police detective chief Lieutenant General Ito Sumardi said officers there suspected Patek traveled on a commercial flight via Bangkok after obtaining a genuine passport using a false name. He said his information indicated that Patek was arrested with other al-Qaeda suspects, and that he was not the target of the raid.
News of his arrest initially came from intelligence officials in Indonesia and the Philippines on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Pakistani security officials confirmed the capture.
All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
“The CIA tipped us off that he might be traveling here,” one official said, but stressed that it was a “solely Pakistani operation.”
A US official familiar with the operation confirmed the CIA worked with foreign intelligence agencies to capture Patek — a collaboration that finally paid off after years of pursuit.
“It’s a good thing any time we and our partners work together to take major terrorists off the streets,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the details of what happened remain classified.
Another Pakistani official said Patek was currently being questioned by Pakistani agents, but that he would “eventually” be given to the Indonesians.
“It is our policy to send them back to their country of origin,” he said.
Sumardi, the Indonesian police chief, said his country would request custody of Patek.
“We strongly hope that the Pakistani authorities are willing to give us access to him, and we would welcome his handing over to his country of origin,” he said. “He was involved in many terror attacks in Indonesia and we are ready to prosecute him according to the law.”
The CIA would presumably like to have access to Patek, but the Pakistani officer said this would happen only with the written consent of Indonesia. Indonesian officials were not available to answer that question, but the country’s anti-terror authorities have worked closely with the US in the past.
Relations between the CIA and Pakistan’s main Inter-Services Intelligence agency have been tense in recent months, especially after the shooting by CIA contractor Raymond Allen Davis of two Pakistanis in Lahore in January. However, it is unclear whether this will affect Patek’s arrest.