JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesian police said Friday they had captured the head of Southeast Asian extremist network Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for some of the deadliest terror attacks in the region.
They said Zarkasi had been heading the militant Muslim outfit since 2004 and that he had been seized in raids last weekend which also netted the alleged head of a JI special forces unit.
The capture of Zarkasi, who is also known as Mbah which means grandfather in Javanese, is a further blow to JI, an Al-Qaeda-linked organisation that aims to create a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia through violent jihad.
Of course, without addressing the underlying ideology and its sources in Islamic teachings, this is only a temporary victory.
“Zarkasi controlled JI operations across the whole of Indonesia,” said Surya Dharma, head of the country’s anti-terror unit, Detachment 88.
He said the 45-year-old militant was in charge of training JI leaders, controlling weapons and ammunition, and managing assignments for attacks.
Sidney Jones, a JI expert and the Southeast Asian director of the International Crisis Group, told AFP that Zarkasi was from “the real first important generation of JI”.
JI is a shadowy organisation and information about who is who within the group,
and what roles they play, is scarce.
The anti-terror chief Dharma said Zarkasi was nabbed in Indonesia’s cultural capital of Yogyakarta a few hours after the capture of 37-year-old Abu Dujana, named as the
head of a special forces unit within JI.
Dujana’s capture alone was considered to be a major breakthrough for Indonesia’s efforts to curb the activities of the group, blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people — mostly westerners — and a string of other attacks on western or Christian targets.
In video footage aired at the press conference, the pair spoke calmly of their roles in the organisation.
A bespectacled and greying Zarkasi said he had become the effective leader of JI in 2004 when it had created a “board” at its peak, while a wiry, moustachioed Dujana said he had headed the organisation’s military wing.
Zarkasi said he had only been leader while the organisation searched for “a
real leader so that (we) are guided in performing our religion in a good way, either by faith propagation or in jihad (holy war)…
“We are continuing to look for a good amir (leader), the real one,” he added.
Raids in Yogyakarta in March, in which one militant was shot dead and seven others arrested, had led police to charts mapping the structure of JI, which showed that a board governed the group.
At the time, Dharma said, they were sure the board existed but they didn’t know who sat on it.
The raids led to a major seizure of bombs and weapons, which police said would
have been used in future atrocities.