Alleged Organizer of Bali Blast Is Arrested

J By Richard C. Paddock

jAKARTA, Indonesia – The alleged organizer of last month’s deadly Bali bombing was arrested Thursday on a public bus as it was about to board a ferry for the island of Sumatra, police said.

The arrest in West Java is a major breakthrough for Indonesian police, who identified suspect Imam Samudra on Sunday as the “field commander” of the Oct. 12 attack that killed 191 people, mostly foreign tourists. Seven Americans were among the dead.

Samudra, 35, who has used many aliases and was described as “highly mobile,” was also wanted for his role in a string of other bombings in Indonesia, including church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 19 people.

Authorities believe Samudra could provide crucial information about Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terrorist network associated with al-Qaida that allegedly is behind a two-year wave of bombings and killings extending from Bali to Manila to Penang, Malaysia.

Police said Samudra surrendered without a struggle when police stopped the bus at 5:30 p.m., just before it boarded the ferry in the bustling West Java port of Merak, about 600 miles from the bomb site in Bali.

Police Chief Dai Bachtiar said officers had begun closing in on Samudra earlier this week when they arrested two of his guards near his hometown of Serang, about 30 miles from the port. The two men, identified as Rauf and Yudi, led police to Samudra.

Bachtiar said Rauf was a computer expert who also was involved in the Bali bombing.

“Three people have been arrested. One of them is Imam Samudra,” Bachtiar told reporters. “There was no resistance. There was no weapon.”

Indonesian media reported that police tracked Samudra to West Java by tracing a cellular phone number he had used. Police say Samudra learned how to make bombs in Afghanistan during the late 1980s or the 1990s. He also spent many years in Malaysia, including time at an Islamic school in the city of Johor Bahru that was a meeting point for Indonesian extremists. Among those he would have encountered there were radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir and another suspect in the Bali plot, a man known as Idris.

Samudra, born Abdul Azis, had been wanted in Indonesia since early last year, when police discovered that he had played a central role in organizing a series of bombings that hit 30 churches in 10 cities on Christmas Eve 2000.

Some say the Bali bombing might have been prevented if authorities had pursued him aggressively then. Instead, he was able to roam freely around Indonesia, including traveling to Central Java, where he held planning meetings for the Bali attack.

Indonesia’s neighbors have accused its government of doing too little to combat terrorism, but it has stepped up efforts since the Bali bombing. Last month, police arrested Bashir, who had been named by terrorism suspects in custody in other countries as the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah.

Indonesian police accuse the 64-year-old cleric of involvement in the Christmas Eve bombings, the bombing of Indonesia’s national mosque and a plot to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri, but he has not been tied to the Bali bombing. He denies any part in terrorist activities.

Police got their first break in the Bali case when they identified the chassis number of the minivan used in the bombing and tracked down its owner, a part-time mechanic and Islamic school teacher named Amrozi. He quickly gave police details of the plot, including Samudra’s role as the organizer.

Under interrogation, Samudra could provide what police call the “missing link” that would tie the Bali attack to Bashir and the Jemaah Islamiyah leadership.