Jihadist faces bombing charges
‘Mastermind’ of Bali and Jakarta attacks could stand trial for war crimes in Guantanamo Bay court.
An American war court prosecutor has filed terror charges against an Indonesian captive at Guantanamo known as Hambali, accusing him of conspiring in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings and the 2003 attack on the J W Marriott hotel in Jakarta, which between them killed more than 200 people.
When or whether Riduan ‘‘Hambali’’ Isomuddin, 53, will actually go to court is not yet known.
At the war court, the prosecution prepares the charges and has them delivered to the prisoner, and also to a senior Pentagon official, Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof, for review and a decision on whether to go forward. One thing Rishikof could get to decide is whether the matter will go to trial as a death penalty case.
Hambali is the first Guantanamo prisoner to be charged during the administration of US President Donald Trump. If Rishikof approves it, he would be the 11th of Guantanamo’s 41 captives to be involved in war crimes proceedings.
Hambali’s charge sheet, obtained by the Miami Herald, describes him as having directed three simultaneous bombings in Bali that killed 202 people on October 12, 2002 – in a pub, near a dance club and the US Consulate. Australia suffered the largest number of casualties, 88, followed by Indonesia with 38. Two New Zealanders were also killed.
The charge sheet also names seven Americans who were killed, a likely basis for prosecuting the case at the US Navy base in Cuba.
According to the charges, the death toll in Bali ‘‘surprised’’ Hambali because ‘‘he did not expect so many people to die’’.
Then in 2003, the prosecutor alleges, Hambali had deputies pick up US$50,000 from al Qaeda, sent by a courier from Pakistan, which was meant to fund a terrorist operation. The courier was Majid Khan, another former CIA captive who pleaded guilty to the crime in 2012 and is awaiting sentencing after he testifies for the US government, apparently against Hambali, if the charges are approved.
In pleading guilty, Khan agreed that the money could have been used to fund the August 2003 attack on the Marriott hotel, which killed 10 Indonesians and a Dutch citizen and wounded three Americans.
Hambali has been held at Guantanamo since September 2006, and before that spent 31⁄2 years in CIA custody, where, according to a US Senate ‘‘torture report’’, an interrogator told him that he would never go to court, because ‘‘we can never let the world know what I have done to you’’.
US intelligence considers him ‘‘an operational mastermind’’ in the Southeast Asia-based Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, and the main link between that group and al Qaeda from 2000 until he was captured in Thailand in August 2003, in a joint US-Thai operation.
The charge sheet does not spell out whether the chief prosecutor, US Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, is seeking the death penalty in the case. Martins declined to comment.
The charge sheet casts Hambali as a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah who began sending followers to al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the late 1990s for training, specifically in bombing. Two alleged acolytes identified in the charge sheets are Malaysians known as Lillie and Zubair, both of whom were captured the same month as Hambali and are being held as uncharged ‘‘forever’’ prisoners at Guantanamo.
The charges also allege that Hambali dispatched Lillie, Zubair and two other Malaysians to meet al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, after the 9/11 terror attacks. He had chosen them as would-be suicide bombers for a post-9/11 attack in the US, perhaps in California.
The charges also portray Hambali as an active participant in would-be attacks. One alleges that he personally carried out surveillance on possible targets in Manila in December 2000, including the US and Israeli embassies.
The Senate report noted that after his capture in 2003, Hambali ‘‘was cooperative’’ with his CIA interrogators, who nonetheless subjected him to ‘‘enhanced interrogation techniques’’ a month into his custody. In response, according to the report, he provided or confirmed information, thinking that was what his interrogators wanted to hear – material that subsequent CIA analysis concluded was not true.
It is not known precisely what was done to him, but the torture report says he was not waterboarded.
Hambali ‘‘did not expect so many people to die’’ in the Bali bombings, prosecutors say.