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Pakistan captures accused plotter in 2002 Bali bombings

Umar Patek's presence in Pakistan raises new questions about ongoing collaboration between Southeast Asian Islamic militants and Al Qaeda.

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In its statement, the Philippine Army said Patek had been arrested in Pakistan on Jan. 25 (other reports suggest he was detained in March) “together with a Pakistani associate who was assumed to be harboring him.”

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“If confirmed, it’s an extraordinary break. We’ve always wondered about the [militant] links not only between the Philippines and Indonesia but also between Southeast Asia and South Asia, especially groups along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” says Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based expert on JI for the International Crisis Group.

Born in 1970, Patek first traveled to Pakistan in 1991 and later joined other Southeast Asian volunteers at an Al Qaeda training camp across the border in Afghanistan, according to Ms. Jones. He later moved to the Philippines, where he married a local Muslim and helped to set up a camp for Malaysian, Indonesian, and Philippine militants, under the wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Government troops overran the camp in 2000, and the militant group is currently in peace talks with the Philippine government.

Patek returned to Indonesia and helped execute the 2002 bombings, according to the US government. Many of the other key plotters in that attack were later captured or killed, including Hambali, an Indonesian who is in US custody in Guantánamo Bay after being captured in Thailand in 2003.

Patek slipped away in the aftermath of the Bali bombings. Philippine intelligence officials said that he had returned to Mindanao to join Abu Sayyaf, which is fighting US-backed Philippine troops in the Sulu peninsula, a backdoor smuggling route to Malaysia and Indonesia.

US role in Mindanao

US military officials have cited the presence of Patek and other wanted JI militants in Abu Sayyaf strongholds as the reason for continued US troop rotations in Mindanao. Under Philippine law, US soldiers are restricted to noncombat roles, such as intelligence, training, and humanitarian missions.

The Philippine statement linked Patek to more recent JI bombings in Indonesia, including a 2004 attack outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta. However, Jones says there had been no confirmed sightings of Patek in Indonesia since 2002. From 2004 to 2005, he posted articles on an extremist website extolling the virtues of armed struggle in Mindanao.

“[The authorities] will be interested to know when he left Mindanao,” says Jones, adding that authorities will be keen to know how many foreign militants are in the southern Philippines and whether they still have safe havens there.

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