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How Al Qaeda lit the Bali fuse: Part three

A bomber tries to realize his vision of a global Muslim uprising

By Special to The Christian Science Monitor / June 19, 2003


Imam Samudra may well be the most hate-filled and defiant of the men on trial for last year's terror attack in Bali.

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On June 2, as he entered court to face charges that he was the field commander for the bombing that claimed 202 lives at two nightclubs, Mr. Samudra pumped his fist into the air and exhorted his lawyers to join him in chanting "God is great."

He has told journalists he was gladdened by the deaths, informed interrogators that God will reward the attackers, and described a decade of plotting that led to the most devastating terrorist act since September 11.

He has also confessed without remorse to participating in six fatal bombings.

Samudra is a "true believer" - a member of that tiny minority in any society who thinks all means are justified in pursuit of a utopian vision. In his case, Samudra believes there is a conspiracy against Muslims led by the US and its allies.

His dream is to spark a global Muslim uprising through isolated acts of terror - a hope shared by Osama bin Laden.

In normal times, men like Mr. Bin Laden or Samudra are frustrated in their quest to win more operatives to their cause. To almost everyone, their extreme views are too difficult to swallow.

They make their greatest inroads when passions are inflamed by war and injustice.

For most of the 1990s, Samudra's ambitions were frustrated by a dearth of like-minded comrades. But that changed with religious war in the Maluku provinces in 1999. A number of well-publicized massacres by Christians in the provinces sparked a wave of sympathy among millions of Muslims in Indonesia and in neighboring countries such as Malaysia.

It was an opportunity that Samudra's Al Qaeda-linked terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), was quick to capitalize on. Fresh recruits began to trickle in to Maluku to join in the fighting along with Indonesian and Malaysian veterans of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union's occupation during the 1980s.

For some, it was a short jump from anger at Christians in Maluku to anger at all Christians and at Indonesia's secular government; from concern about domestic matters to an interest in the grand conspiracy theory spun by Al Qaeda.

Changing young men's perspectives

Samudra and his colleagues worked hard to encourage this evolution in thinking. They'd been whispering in the ears of young men for years, winning one or two converts at a time. Now Maluku had given them a megaphone. They recruited young men to fight in Maluku, and from them culled future operatives. The war was also used to build sympathy for their views in the general Indonesian population.

"Samudra? Well, he simply hates Americans,'' says Lt. Col. Yatim Suyatmo, chief spokesman for the Bali police. "But for many of the people under him, their anger was focused by speeches about the suffering of Muslims in Ambon."

A typical new recruit

Taufik Abdul Halim was a typical new recruit. In June 2000, the young Malaysian and eight others - spurred by videos of men suffering - arrived in Maluku from the porous eastern border on Borneo. Today Halim languishes in a Jakarta jail, without the bottom half of his right leg.

His trial documents show how Maluku served as a gateway to terrorism.

In the village of Siri Sori, Halim fought under a commander Haris Fadillah, famous for his aggressive tactics against Christian villages - and the father-in-law of Omar al-Faruq, accused of being a top liaison between Al Qaeda and JI.