/ 20 August 2009

Indonesia militants plotted Obama attack, says expert

A police investigation into last month’s Jakarta hotel bombings shows that militants also planned to use snipers to attack Barack Obama’s convoy when the United States president visits Indonesia, an intelligence expert told Reuters.

Authorities were also probing whether the suicide bombings at the JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels on July 17 received overseas funding from a group linked to al-Qaeda, said Dynno Chressbon, an intelligence analyst at the Centre for Intelligence and National Security who is close to the police investigations.

He said two of four wanted suspects — Ario Sudarso and Mohamad Syahrir — who police released pictures of on Wednesday had been prepared as snipers for an attack on Obama.

”For Obama, they planned to attack the convoy around the airport using MK-IIIs,” he said, referring to a type of Russian-made sniper rifle that he said was used by the Taliban in Afghanistan and also in Muslim conflict areas in the Philippines.

An Indonesian police spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday, but the sniper plot and other suspected plots indicate the scale of the ambitions of Indonesian militants may be far higher than first thought.

Obama has been widely expected to include a stopover in the world’s most populous Muslim nation when he attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Singapore in November.

The alleged snipers were from a group called the Indonesian Islamic State, which has a training camp in the restive southern Philippines and also has received support from a group headed by Malaysian-born militant Noordin Mohammad Top, Chressbon said.

Top, who formed a violent wing of the Jemaah Islamiah militant network, is believed to be the mastermind behind July’s hotel attacks which killed nine people and wounded 53.

Since the hotel bombings, police have arrested at least five people and three others have been killed during raids, while police said a plot to attack Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had been thwarted.

Al-Qaeda link
A possible al-Qaeda connection to the hotel attacks and other plots was also being investigated, Chressbon said, after two men believed to be from Yemen had stayed at the Marriott at the same time as an Indonesian called Syaifudin Zuhri bin Djaelani Irsyad, or SJ, who is believed to have recruited the suicide bombers.

Police believed the two men from Yemen were connected to Anshar El Muslimin, a group linked to the al-Qaeda network in Iraq set up by the late Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, Chressbon said.

The men had stayed in room 1621 at the Marriott from July 15 to 17 and claimed to be airline crew, but police suspect they were involved in the plot, he said.

”They booked and said they were Yemen Airways staff,” he said, adding that the airline had said its staff did not use the Marriott for stopovers.

Asked about the role of the two men from Yemen, Ansyaad Mbai, head of the anti-terrorism desk at Indonesia’s Security Ministry, said police were trying to confirm a link with the attacks.

”Of course, they have suspicions into this but it cannot be confirmed yet so it’s impossible for them to say,” Mbai said.

Police spokesperson Nanan Soekarna told a news conference on Wednesday that police had arrested a man believed to be a Saudi national and a local man suspected of being involved in arranging funding for the hotel attacks.

Chressbon said militants had also been discussing a plot to attack the Apec summit in Singapore, holding a meeting in July 2008 in Solo, Central Java, and another in Cilacap, also in Central Java, in June which Top is believed to have attended.

At the Solo meeting, the two Yemenis had met a Singaporean national called Husein bin Ismail, also known as Hendrawan, who is now in police custody, he said. Ismail had brought a map of the Apec summit site in Singapore to the meeting, Chressbon said.

Militants, including Top, had also held an April 5 meeting in Jakarta at which they discussed a list of possible targets in Jakarta, in addition to the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, including other luxury hotels, the Chinese embassy, an American Express building and a DBS Bank building for attacks slated over a period between August 5 and 17, Chressbon said.

The meeting also discussed possible attacks on the residence of President Yudhoyono, the presidential palace and the election commission building in central Jakarta, Chressbon said, although no timetable had been set.

Police have previously said that Top had chaired a meeting on April 30 where a plot was hatched to carry out a suicide attack on Yudhoyono’s residence using a truck packed with explosives in retaliation for the execution of the Bali bombers last year.

Authorities had seized up to half a tonne of explosives suspected of being prepared for the attacks, police said.

Chressbon said militants had also been planning another wave of attacks after August 23, including on a mall in Jakarta and three malls in Makassar, Sulawesi, while offices in Jakarta housing foreign resource companies had also been targeted. — Reuters