U.S. reports capture of Al Qaida leader in Thailand

Friday, August 15, 2003

The United States has reported the capture of an Al Qaida leader who was planning a series of attacks on Western targets.

Ryuduan Bin Isomuddin, also known as Hambali, was captured in Thailand earlier this week and was taken into U.S. custody, officials said. The officials said Hambali was the operational chief of the Al Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiya and a close associate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the former operations chief of Al Qaida and captured in Pakistan in March 2003.

Hambali, who helped plan the bombing of a nightclub in Bali in October 2002 in which nearly 200 people were killed, was captured in a joint operation that included the CIA, Indonesia and Thailand. Officials said Hambali received a large sum of money from Al Qaida operatives in Pakistan for a major attack against U.S. interests, Middle East Newsline reported.

"This is a significant victory in the global war on terrorism and a devastating blow to the enemy," a U.S. senior administration official said on Thursday. "He was one of the few remaining senior planners of Al Qaida and their most important link to terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. It effectively diminishes the group's lethal capabilities."

The senior official said Hambali, who speaks Arabic, was recruited to find pilots for another series of suicide hijackings in the United States that would have resembled the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on New York and Washington in which more than 3,000 people were killed. Al Qaida provided the 39-year-old Hambali with money relayed from Pakistan earlier this year.

"This is going to be very helpful in helping us obtain information about current and future threats, this capture," the official said.

Officials said Hambali was the architect of Al Qaida's policy to designate so-called soft targets. This has meant bombing nightclubs, hotels, non-Muslim houses of worship and other civilian targets over the last 18 months in such countries as Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco and Tunisia.

U.S. officials said more than 3,000 Al Qaida operatives have been captured since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They said this includes more than 50 percent of Al Qaida's leadership, including those who planned the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in east Africa and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

"We have degraded and sown confusion into the uppermost ranks of Al Qaida," State Department counter-terrorism coordinator Cofer Black said.

Black told a Washington conference that the U.S.-led war on terrorism will not depend only on military might. He also cited diplomacy, homeland defense, intelligence and efforts to stop financing to Al Qaida and related groups.

"Indeed, diplomacy is the backbone of our campaign for one simple reason," Black said. "International partnerships help us to act more effectively. In fact, the very success of our efforts often rests with those nations in the Near East, Africa, and Asia, who are working tirelessly with us to find and defeat terrorism."

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