Looking for SE Asia's own Carlos the Jackal

The intense antiterrorist probe conducted over the past three months, has in recent weeks begun to expose transnational activities which few could have imagined.

Despite claims by Indonesian police that Fathur Rahman Al-Ghozi has no links with al-Qaeda, information obtained by The Jakarta Post from various intelligence sources strongly suggests that the Indonesian link is more pronounced than officials in Jakarta would have us believe.

Taking the lead from Singapore's probe into an alleged terrorist network targeting the city-state, there are at least two or three men serving as a catalyst for local terrorist cells.

Their broad network and illusiveness reminds us of the infamous Carlos the Jackal.

Exposing their identity and more importantly ascertaining their links is vital to quashing this new regional threat.

Authorities believe a man identified as "Mike", was one of two key figures in the foiled terrorist attack in Singapore which led to the arrest in December of over a dozen locals who are all said to be Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members.

Mike was described as being Filipino or Indonesian. He is also known as a trainer and bomb maker for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Apart from observing potential targets in Singapore such as the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, he also directed the preparations by local terrorist cells, including trying to obtain 14 tons of ammonium nitrate.

Another mysterious figure has been identified as going by the alias of Hambali or Nurjaman. He is said to be an Indonesian residing in Malaysia.

Hambali was responsible for making travel arrangements of several Jemaah Islamiyah members for training in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including eight of those currently being detained in Singapore.

The news spotlight has now turned on two Indonesians: Fathur Rahman Al-Ghozi and Parlindungan Siregar.

Much has already been written about Fathur who was arrested in the Philippines two weeks ago.

Already the media is speculating that the Indonesian native is the infamous "Mike".

Having been found in illegal possession of weapons and explosives, combined with his known association with the MILF, the profile fits.

Two key facts must be highlighted: Firstly, Fathur was educated in one of the schools set up by Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, and second he spent time in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan to study.

Fathur's attendance at one of the religious schools of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI) indicates that he at least had access to the regional network built up over the years by its chief Abu Bakar Ba'asyir.

Fathur's presence in Afghanistan is also consistent with the profile of most al-Qaeda operators who have undergone training in Pakistan which was the center of training and education of Taliban's elite.

There is speculation that in Pakistan or Afghanistan Fathur may have first met Ibrahim Maidin, the head of the JI arrested in Singapore. Ibrahim is known to have received training in Afghanistan in 1993.

While Fathur's connections to the al-Qaeda still look more circumstantial than factual, there is stronger evidence linking Parlindungan to the terrorist group.

Parlindungan, 44, is currently believed to be in Malaysian police custody for his alleged activities with the JI there.

Information received by the Post indicates that Parlindungan is an al-Qaeda operative working in the region.

Not only did he nurture contacts with al-Qaeda agents in Europe, but he facilitated their presence at the suspected terrorist training camp concealed in Central Sulawesi jungles.

Parlindungan's journey begins in the late 1980s when the Bandung Institute of Technology student obtained a scholarship to study aeronautical engineering at Univesitas Complutense in Madrid.

According to embassy reports, Parlindungan was for many years a sociable person, active in the Indonesian community, including giving Koranic reading lessons to children at the embassy in Madrid.

Over the years he became friends with a man identified as Yusuf Galan.

Both were often seen together. Parlindungan once even invited Galan to the embassy to observe his Koranic class.

Through Galan, Parlindungan then met a Spanish national of Syrian decent named Imad Edin Barakat Yarkas, a.k.a. Abu Dadah.

Spanish authorities have recently pointed to Abu Dadah and Galan as being key al-Qaeda agents in Spain.

The two were in fact among 13 arrested by police in a sweep of alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Madrid and Granada in November.

Abu Dadah has since been identified as a recruitment officer who helped approach and arrange training of new recruits for al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Those who knew Parlindungan in Spain said he showed noticeable changes in his personality after he lost his scholarship in 1996. Embassy reports said that his behavior became more radical and even his style of clothing changed.

One noticeable incident which led to him being ostracized by the Indonesia community there was when he tried to get his Koranic studies class to hold a street demonstration for Bosnia.

Military sources in Indonesia said Parlindungan returned home in late 2000 or early 2001.

He remained largely anonymous and much of his activity was undetected until his name was cited by several sources as a frequent participant, and perhaps even trainer, at the hidden camp in Central Sulawesi.

Presently, little is known about Parlindungan's contacts after he returned home, other than those in relation to the camp which was known to be active at least up until July 2001.

One thing is certain, his contacts with al-Qaeda agents continued.

Spanish police have obtained information that suggests that both Abu Dadah and Galan visited the camp in Central Sulawesi which has been described only as belonging to a "Mujahidin group".

Separately Indonesian Military sources said the camp functioned as a training ground with about 50 new recruits coming in every two or three months. There was no immediate information as to where these recruits were shipped to later.

Automatic weapons were readily available in the camp, however, their storage and distribution was kept under strict supervision of "men who spoke Arabic".

The existence of the camp was made public here by State Intelligence Body chief Hendropiyono late last year. Information about the camp was believed to be obtained from U.S. satellite shots which were dispatched to Jakarta courtesy of the Singapore government.

Though much of the attention currently focuses on Fathur, who is assumed to be ""Mike"", it would be erroneous to assume that he alone is the trump card in unraveling the complex network of activities especially since terrorist cells are known to work independently of each other.

Even though there have been suggestions that Ba'asyir may be the protagonist of the network in the region, more information needs to be made public to support the assumption that there are clear institutional links between al-Qaeda and groups which he oversees such as JI and MMI.

One scenario being explored is that al-Qaeda has actually infiltrated these organizations by recruiting individual members of these groups.

The fact that these groups share a similar ideological or philosophical bias only helped to radicalize them further after the al-Qaeda trained agents were planted among their ranks.

Once inside it was easy for these agents to exploit the established networks and further sway the already converted to take part in terrorist activities, particularly with the infusion of money.

Thus while these local groups may not have been adverse to the use of their organizations for al-Qaeda activities, they may not have authorized it either.

Tiarma Siboro and Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Singapore,   01/30/2002