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Bush Recalls The Capture Of Hambali In Thailand

Bush Recalls The Capture Of Hambali In Thailand

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- When CIA and Thai authorities caught Hambali in Thailand in 2003, nothing was said publicly about his involvement in a 9/11-style plot to fly an airplane into a skyscraper in Los Angeles.

Shaving off his beard, Hambali, then aged 40, had bounced around incognito in neighboring Cambodia, while staying in a cheap hotel among international backpackers, before allegedly using a Spanish passport to hide in Thailand's ancient Buddhist town of Ayutthaya, 50 miles (85 kilometers) north of Bangkok.

CIA and Thai agents tracked him down after discovering a key with an Ayutthaya apartment name tag, in the possession of an arrested Malaysian terror suspect.

Immediately after capturing Hambali in room 601 of the Boonyarak Apartment block in Ayutthaya, he disappeared under U.S. custody and has not been publicly seen since -- amid speculation he was being tortured via a "rendition" to Jordan, or caged for brutal interrogation by Americans in Guantanamo Bay, or on the U.S.-occupied Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, or in Bagram, Afghanistan.

Washington had said Hambali was a senior member of the "foreign terrorist organization" Jemaah Islamiyah (J.I.), or Islamic Community.

Alleged Indonesian terrorist leader Abu Bakar Bashir insisted at the time that J.I. was created by the CIA, along with Al Qaeda, to trick and persecute Muslims.

Indonesian-born Hambali reportedly trained in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, while the CIA was arming and financing an Afghan Islamic jihad against a "godless" communist Soviet occupation, and when Osama bin Laden was also active there.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday (February 9), however, announced for the first time that Hambali was crucial to a plot to hijack an airplane, and fly it into the tallest building on America's west coast.

Bumbling his statement, Bush said the building was the "Liberty Tower" in Los Angeles, but that was later corrected to refer to the Library Tower.

The 73-story building had since been renamed the U.S. Bank Tower.

"We now know that in October 2001, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad -- the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks -- had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door, and fly the plane into the tallest building on the west coast," Bush said.

"We believe the intended target was Liberty Tower in Los Angeles, California. Rather than use Arab hijackers as he had on September the 11th, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad sought out young men from Southeast Asia -- whom he believed would not arouse as much suspicion.

"To help carry out this plan, he tapped a terrorist named Hambali, one of the leaders of an al Qaeda affiliated group in Southeast Asia called J. I.," Bush said in a speech at the National Guard Building in Washington, D.C.

"Hambali recruited several key operatives who had been training in Afghanistan. Once the operatives were recruited, they met with Osama bin Laden, and then began preparations for the west coast attack," the president said.

After busting suspects in Southeast Asia during 2002, the "west coast plot had been thwarted," Bush said.

Bush named a dozen countries helping the U.S. war on terrorism, but did not specify America's close ally Thailand when he said, "In the summer of 2003, our partners in Southeast Asia conducted another successful manhunt that led to the capture of the terrorist Hambali."

Bush's announcement about Hambali coincided with the president's demand to Congress for a 28.5 billion U.S. dollar increase in military funds.

Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, has been blamed for several terrorist plots.

"Thai authorities captured senior Al Qaeda terrorist Hambali, who was responsible for the deadly bombings in Bali and Jakarta," U.S. Ambassador-Designate to Thailand, Ralph L. "Skip" Boyce, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in June 2004.

The Indonesian island of Bali suffered bombings in October 2002 which killed more than 200 people.

An August 2003 bomb in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, killed at least 13 in front of the U.S.-owned Marriott Hotel two weeks before Hambali's arrest.

"The U.S. government has already given us 10 million dollars for help in the arrest of Hambali," as a reward, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said after Hambali was seized.

"Hambali planned to carry out bombings in Thailand against the U.S. and British embassies, nightclubs in Phuket and Pattaya, and the Israeli check-in counter at Bangkok's Don Muang airport," London's Sunday Times reported in October 2003, citing Hambali's purported "interrogation transcript".

"Hambali and two Al Qaeda assistants also considered attacking an Israeli restaurant with a Star of David above it, in the [Bangkok] backpacker area of Khao San Road," the British report said.

The popular restaurant, in a street perpetually jammed with thousands of tourists and Thais, has since removed its large six-pointed advertisement.


Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is

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