By: Coen Husain Pontoh
MANILA – At about five in the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2002, over a dozen officers from various units in the Philippine security forces raided a Muslim quarter in Quiapo, in the city of Manila. Their target was to arrest an Indonesian national named Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who was intending to fly to Bangkok later that day.
Two days after the arrest, the Philippine security forces launched another raid on a house in General Santos City, in the southern island of Mindanao, almost two hours away by plane from Manila. The house had been rented by al-Ghozi. There, the authorities found 50 sacks of explosives weighing a total of 1.1 tons, 300 detonators, and six coils of detonator cables, each 400 meters long.
That Friday, Jan. 18, the Philippine government announced the results of its operations to the media. Lt. Col. Jose Mabanta, spokesperson of the Philippine Army, said, “He (al-Ghozi) claims to have in his possession 1,100 kilograms of explosives from his contact in Cebu City last year. According to him, the explosives were brought in from Cebu to General Santos to be sent out to a number of ASEAN countries.”
For someone who was unknown even to his countrymen, Al-Ghozi’s arrest caused a big stir across Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, which acknowledged the help of intelligence sources in Singapore and Malaysia, authorities were soon also linking the 31-year-old Indonesian to a series of bomb blasts that had rocked Manila more than a year earlier and left more than 20 people dead and scores injured. In Indonesia, the arrest left many feeling distressed, uneasy, angry, and confused over whether or not they should believe what they were hearing from Manila.
Two months before, the United States as well as its intelligence networks in Malaysia and Singapore had put Indonesia under suspicion of being “a terrorists’ lair” as U.S. officials vigorously searched for tracks of al-Qaeda, the prime main suspect of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was obviously a label that did not sit well with Indonesians, some of whom thought their country was being singled out simply because it has the world’s biggest Muslim population.
It did not help that al-Ghozi’s own parents were themselves unsure what their son had been up to in the years after he left their hometown of Mojorejo, Madiun regency, East Java as a young boy. Yet it seems al-Ghozi’s decision to study in a pesantren or Islamic boarding school after graduating from elementary was a crucial first step in a journey that would take him as far as Afghanistan before returning him to Asia and landing him behind bars in Manila. Indeed, it is a tale that may not be that uncommon among Muslim young men in Indonesia — and anywhere else where influential teachers depict the religion as being under siege.
A father’s past
“I once heard that he went to college in Malaysia,” says al-Ghozi’s mother Rukanah, a retired Islamic high school teacher. “But the truth is I don’t know.”
“I don’t know what my son’s activities were,” his father Muhamad Zainuri says. “He only told me that he had been working in Malaysia as an instructor or a preacher.”
For sure, it has been hard for Rukanah and Zainuri to hear foreign authorities describing their firstborn as a dangerous man, someone who was most probably connected with a terrorist network. But then they could also have been experiencing some kind of d?j? vu, as Zainuri himself was once part of a resistance movement, a fact well known to his son.
Back in 1977, when al-Ghozi was just six years old, Zainuri became an active member of the Komando Jihad, which was part of a group known as the Indonesian Islamic State (NII). When an Islamic militant group, Jama’ah Imran, hijacked a Garuda Indonesia airplane codenamed Woyla in Thailand in 1982, the police accused Zainuri of involvement in the incident. He was quickly arrested and fired from his teaching post at a local school. But Umar Abduh, a former Jama’ah Imran member who shared a cell with Zainuri at Malang prison in 1982, says, “Zainuri was not even the least involved in the Woyla case. He’s purely a NII member.”
There is no telling what impressions all these left on young al-Ghozi. Zainuri, though, would later resort to more legal means to have his voice heard. When President Soeharto was forced to step down in May 1998, Zainuri joined the Crescent Star Party. Today he is a member of the local legislature in Madiun, sitting at Commission B and leading the National Star Faction, which comprises members from the Crescent Star Party and the National Mandate Party. Zainuri now believes the struggle to uphold the Islamic law, or sharia, is more effectively done through parliamentary ways.
His past leaves Zainuri feeling uncomfortable, particularly with what is happening to his son. Agus Basuki, a reporter in Madiun, says Zainuri told him: “That was part of the past that no longer needs to be brought up and it’s already been washed down the drain. There’s no use (of bringing it up), especially in relation to Fathur.”
Al-Ghozi himself would later indicate in a written interview in Manila that when he was a child, he had no plans of following his father’s footsteps. “Ever since I was young,” he wrote, “I had wanted to become a successful businessman.” Somewhere between Mojorejo and Manila, however, those plans apparently went awry.
The ‘lost’ years
Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi was born in Mojorejo on December 17, 1971, the eldest among three brothers and one sister. After completing elementary at a state school in the village, the young al-Ghozi entered a pesantren in Ngruki, Skorharjo. His father says al-Ghozi had made the decision to become a santri or student at the Ngruki pesantren. An uncle adds that communications between the boy and his family faltered during that period, and that the family had considered al-Ghozi as “lost.” But since he was in a pesantren, it was assumed that he would end up an ulema or Islamic cleric one day.
Apparently, though, he had not impressed his teachers at Ngruki – at least not Farid Ma’ruf, head of the pesantren, who had not paid much attention to the boy. “An exceptional santri would certainly be easily recognized by the teachers,” says Ma’ruf, who nevertheless remembers al-Ghozi’s student number and his graduation “in the academic year 1988/89.”
Zainuri recalls his son as having graduated from the pesantren in 1990. Afterward, he says, al-Ghozi continued his studies in Lahore, Pakistan. “Everyone in the family shared the expense of sending Fathur to Pakistan,” says Zainuri. “Once he was there, I believe his education was free of charge.”
They would not hear from him again until 1996, when al-Ghozi suddenly showed up at the doorstep of the family home in Mojorejo. Zainuri recounts that his son then spent most of his time visiting relatives. Not long after, al-Ghozi left Mojorejo once more, and would not pay it another visit until 2000.
It is the period between 1990 and 1996, however, which has become the focus of investigations by the U.S. intelligence and those of several Southeast Asian nations. It was then that al-Ghozi is believed to have received training from the al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the governments of Singapore and the Philippines, al-Ghozi was a key leader of the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), which is considered to be part of the al-Qaeda network in Southeast Asia and intent on attacking U.S. interests in the region.
“The Singaporean government is positively pointing out that Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi is one of the key leaders of the Jamaah Islamiyah,” says Robert Delfin, the intelligence director of the Philippine police.
Zainuri retorts, “I don’t believe that my son is involved in a terrorist network. The accusation could possibly be just a sponsor’s message from the governments of America and other countries that bow to America.”
He is unable to explain why his son admitted to owning the ton of explosives found in General Santos, but he says a mouthful when told that al-Ghozi had allegedly confessed to Philippine police of trying to carry out a jihad in that country. Says Zainuri: “If it’s to defend Muslims being oppressed then it is not wrong. If it’s what the religion demands, then it’s not a problem because everything has been predestined. You are speaking to me now also because of Allah’s predestination. So everything has to be returned to Allah.”
Rise of radical Islam
History shows that Islam was at one time reached the highest point in the world’s civilization. By the 15th century, Islamdom was the world’s greatest power—not unlike the United States today. “In the 16th century, when Europe was still in the early stages of its rise to power, the Ottoman Empire—that ruled Turkey, the Middle East and Northern Africa—was probably already the most powerful and up-to-date society in the world,” writes British writer and theology expert Karen Armstrong in her article September Apocalypse: Who, Why and What Next?
But just as the Western world began to work with money-based economic structures, putting rationality over rigid ecclesiastical dogmas, and building nation-state structures with clear boundaries, binding laws, and large military power, the bright light of Islamic civilization began to fade. The new rulers in the colonized states would waste no time flexing their muscles. Says Armstrong: “The colonial powers treated the ‘natives’ with contempt, and it was not long before Muslims discovered that their new rulers despised their religious traditions.”
By 1923, the last Islamic power, the Ottoman empire, would fall. But Muslims around the world soon picked themselves up again. Some approved and followed the examples of Western modernization. Others tried to combine traditional wisdom with modernity. And then there were those who rejected everything Western and endeavored to return to Islamic tradition.
Armstrong says that fundamentalism in any faith represents a rebellion against the secularist ethos of modernity. But the rise of Islamist radicalism is also a response to the external pressures considered to be a threat to the Muslims’ existence.
And so there have been organizations such as Ikhwanul Muslimin, which was founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928 in Egypt. Al-Banna viewed the degeneration of Muslims as result of repression by authoritarian regimes and influence of secularism, both capitalist and communist. Ikhwanul Muslimin is intent on upholding the dignity of Muslims in all levels of life. “Actually, Ikhwanul Muslimin is a Salafi dakwa (propagation), a Sunnite order, a Sufism reality, a political body, a sports club, an association of scientific and cultural forums, an economic enterprise, and a social thinking,” said al-Banna.
Al-Banna’s ‘revolution’ catches fire
Ikhwanul Muslimin quickly grew into a large organization, spreading beyond Egyptian borders and into Sudan, Tunisia, Jordan, and even Indonesia. “Ikhwanul Muslimin,” writes Fathi Yakan in his book on al-Banna’s revolution, “is the first Islamic organization and the largest after the fall of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.”
Ikhwanul Muslimin uses both legal and illegal structural layers to achieve its goals, giving the movement dynamism and high political intensity. According to Fathi Yakan, this has resulted in the emergence of different groups or concepts of the Islamic movement, ranging from those willing to cooperate with governments to radicals who are fond of using violence or confrontation.
One of the radical factions that first broke away from the Ikhwanul Muslimin was the Jihad al-Islami faction, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. By the end of the 1970s, says Sholahuddin, a former NII member, the Jihad al-Islami had spawned a spin-off of its own: Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, led by Syaikh Umar Abd al-Rahman.
Former Komando Jihad member Umar Abduh says these two groups teamed up with Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden in February 1998, and announced the establishment of a new alliance called the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. “The Jihad al-Islami and the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya have made an alliance with Osama only to fight against the United States. But organizationally they remain separate,” explains Abduh.
Still, it was a strategic alliance. Thus, Jihad al-Islami leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is also the right hand man of bin Laden, was reported by CNN as having come to Aceh in 2001 to see if al-Qaeda could launch operations from the region. Meanwhile, Rifa’i Taha Musa’a, leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, became an al-Qaeda senior member.
Osama bin Laden lost his geographical base after the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime. But bin Laden remains at large, and his al-Qaeda still poses a very potent menace to the United States, which pushes on with its global “war on terrorism.” Several countries and regions are now suspected of being among al-Qaeda’s “breeding grounds.” According to Jane’s Intelligence Review, bin Laden’s organization has not only successfully built operative networks in America, Europe, and East Africa, but also in Asia.
“Considering al-Qaeda’s fondness of running its operations in a Muslim country or a country with a substantial Muslim population,” it says, “countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, make an easy target.”
In a speech at a security conference in July 2002, Singaporean Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew named three factors that encourage the radicalization of a part of Southeast Asia’s Muslim society: First, since the price of oil quadrupled in 1973, the Saudi Arabian government has generously funded the dakwa activities, and construction of mosques and religious schools throughout the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia is also paying the ulemas to teach and practice the conservative teachings of the Wahabist Islam. Second, the overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlevi in Iran in a revolution led by the ulemas in 1979. This victory has had a profound impact on Muslims’ belief on Islam’s power. Third, the participation of a large number of Southeast Asian Muslims in the war in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s, leaving many Muslims in the region radicalized.
Eyes on Indonesia – and Ba’asyir
When Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi was arrested in Manila, Indonesia became the center of attention of Southeast Asian authorities and media. Security expert Angel M. Rabasa testified in a U.S. congressional hearing that with Indonesia’s ongoing political upheaval, enduring economic crisis, and weak enforcement of the law, the country was therefore a fertile ground for terrorism, radical groups and separatist movements. He added that the extremists “represent a small minority of Muslims, but they have the potential to influence a larger substratum of the Muslim population.”
Reyko Huang, a senior analyst from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information, has asserted that some unspecified evidence has been found linking a number of radical Islamic organizations in Indonesia and the al-Qaeda. He singles out Abubakar Ba’asyir, an ulema from the Ngruki pesantren – al-Ghozi’s alma mater — as the spiritual leader of the Jamaah Islamiyah, a terrorist group allegedly responsible for a series of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines in the past two years.
Huang also cites Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali as having become a Ba’asyir disciple when both were living in Malaysia in the 1990s. Kuala Lumpur has accused Hambali of being a leading figure of the Malaysian Mujahidin Group (KMM). Jama’ah Islamiyah and KMM are said to have well-organized cells in Southeast Asia. Their Afghanistan-trained members’ main task is to expand al-Qaeda’s network in the region.
All allegations and speculations about al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia always mention Abubakar Ba’asyir. This may be partly because of Ba’asyir’s political history, which is synonymous to the radical Islamic movement. Umar Abduh says that in 1977, Ba’asyir and his fellow comrade in struggle, Abdullah Sungkar, were sworn in by Haji Ismail Pranoto, better known as Hispran, as members of the NII, which was then led by Adah Djaelani Tirtapradja.
But in an interview, Ba’asyir refutes this. “If only being friends with NII people, then it’s true,” he says. Ba’asyir also claims that he considers Hispran as an agent of Ali Murtopo, former head of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and a special assistant to then President Soeharto.
Abduh, though, is certain Sungkar and Ba’asyir were both sworn in by Hispran, and is surprised when told that Ba’asyir thinks Hispran is a military spy. Abduh says both Sungkar and Ba’asyir highly respected Hispran. “But if he denies being an NII member, I guess it’s only a present-day awareness in order to save himself,” Abduh says.
Politics of Ngruki pesantren Sholahudin says that Islamic teachings-wise, Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s understandings are no different than those of the majority of Muslims. This means that when they speak about Islamic laws, it’s almost the same to what is taught at the pesantren belonging to the Muhammadiyah. The difference lies on the high political content, which made the Ngruki pesantren develop a reputation as a school of radicals during the 1980s.
“The political content was particularly in regard to the concept of an Islamic state,” says Sholahudin, now a journalist.. “To them, the existence of an Islamic state was important because they believed that Islam is a way of life, a system of life that covers not only ritual aspects such as daily prayers (shalat), alms (zakat), and fasting; but also social and political aspects. This social aspect could not be enforced without an institution called a state. At this point, they referred to a concept in Islamic teachings that says mala’yatimul wajib illa bihi fahuwa wajid (an action needed to enforce an obligation is obligatory by law). Therefore, without an Islamic state there was no way that Islamic sharia could be enforced.”
This led Sungkar to call the Soeharto regime as the thogut, or evil, government. In 1978, he and Ba’asyir were arrested under subversion charges and detained without trial for four years. In 1982, they were finally tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison. But both appealed and, in 1984, fled to Malaysia, where they continued to be active at local Qu’ran recitation groups, propagating the importance of the enforcement of the Islamic sharia.
According to Ba’asyir, they called their group As-Sunnah. With wars raging in Afghanistan and Mindanao in the southern Philippines, the two became even more vigorous in their activities. Ba’asyir once went to Pakistan and met with the anti-Soviet mujahidin fighters at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He says Muslims are obliged to help and defend their fellow Muslims who are being oppressed by the infidels.
Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s experiences abroad expanded their movement’s horizons. If their vision had previously been to establish an Islamic state of Indonesia, now they were fighting to establish an Islamic empire. Abduh says that in 1995 Sungkar and Ba’asyir declared themselves out of the structures and teachings of NII. The two joined in methodologically to the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya led by Omar Abd al-Rahman. “I said methodologically,” stresses Abduh. “This is different from being affiliated organizationally, and in this case, I don’t have accurate facts.”
Ba’asyir again refutes this when asked about it. “That story is nothing but a manipulation by the infidels,” he says. “I have never joined the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. But I know them as an organization based in Egypt.”
Lack of evidence
Coming up with proof that Abubakar Ba’asyir has links with the al-Qaeda is not easy, especially if one were to base these on the cleric’s activities in Indonesia after his return from Malaysia in 2000. “Right now they are trying to use democratic ways to campaign the enforcement of Islamic sharia. I don’t know about other countries,” says Abduh.
But this lack of proof does not concern Ba’asyir alone. It has also made the Indonesian government upset over allegations of al-Qaeda presence in the country. “Give us strong evidence that there is an al-Qaeda network in Indonesia,” challenges Marty M. Natalegawa from Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Jakarta’s relatively unenthusiastic support of the U.S. antiterrorism campaign has disturbed the politicians in Washington, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila. Yet it cannot be said that President Megawati’s administration has not done anything to help the U.S. campaign. In January 2002, for instance, Indonesian authorities arrested Pakistani national Havis Muhammad Saad Iqbal in Jakarta and promptly sent him off to Egypt where he was under the suspicion of involvement in terrorism. Iqbal is also allegedly involved in the Dec. 22, 2001 incident in which British national Richard Reid tried to light explosives implanted in his shoes while aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami.
On Jun. 5, 2002, Jakarta also arrested a Kuwaiti named Omar al-Faruq in West Java and sent him to the United States, which has accused Al-Faruq of being a fundraiser for an Islamic foundation that sends financial support to al-Qaeda in Indonesia. Notably, however, Indonesia did not make much effort in publicizing the arrest.
But compared to what the governments in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines have done, Jakarta’s actions have been seen as meager. Singapore has arrested 15 members of the Jamaah Islamiyah while about 60 were arrested Malaysia. “Indonesian government’s support is essentially limited to mere rhetoric,” says Huang.
Dana Dillon of the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. argues, “The reason is because President Megawati Sukarnoputri depends on the coalition of Islamic political parties for the political support her government needs.”
Al-Ghozi and al-Qaeda
On Apr. 18, 2002, a Philippine court found Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi guilty of illegal possession of explosives and sentenced him to 12 years in prison. But Philippine authorities also insist that al-Ghozi is a key leader of the Jamaah Islamiya, the organization accused of being part of the al-Qaeda network in Southeast Asia. Jamaah Islamiya’s spiritual leader is allegedly Abubakar Ba’asyir.
The Philippine police’s Robert Delfin traces the beginning of al-Ghozi’s involvement with Jamaah Islamiyah back to Lahore, where he was supposedly recruited by two Indonesians in 1992. Al-Ghozi had also told the Philippine police that he often went to a camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, for a month, to join trainings in weaponry and bombing in 1993-1994. “The camp is associated to the al-Qaeda,” says Delfin.
In his testimony made before a team of Philippine prosecutors led by Peter Ong, al-Ghozi says that after finishing his studies, he was ordered by Ba’asyir to take part in the jihad in the Philippines, which he was to enter through General Santos in South Cotabato. Al-Ghozi began his mission in December 1996, making his way to the Philippines from Manado, the provincial capital of North Sulawesi. “During the first few years,” says Ong, “he was here to study the local language, open a bank account, and obtain a passport.”
When he first came to the Philippines, Al-Ghozi stayed for a month at Camp Abubakar, the base camp of the Filipino rebel group Moro National Liberation Front (MILF). He then transferred to Campo Muslim in Cotabato City, where he learned to speak Tagalog while teaching MILF fighters how to use explosives.
“Yes, a number of Indonesians had previously come to Camp Abubakar,” Mating Magandatao, an imam living in Tugaig village, Barira city, would tell the Manila weekly magazine Newsbreak years later. “We did not understand their language. They looked just like us, and we also asked around and got the information that they were Indonesians. They all seemed good people.”
Sholahudin says that when al-Ghozi returned to Indonesia, he and his friends founded what is now known as Nusantara Islamic Mujahidin Generation. “They are notoriously radical,” says Sholahudin, “even in the NII they are not considered part of NII.”
Not much is known about al-Ghozi’s activities in 1997. But by March 1998, he was back in the Philippines, working directly under Faiz bin Abubakar Bafana, said to be a member of the Jamaah Islamiyah’s supreme council. Bafana, now in a Singaporean jail, had assigned a special task to al-Ghozi: to build a channel for purchasing explosives.
A peripatetic perpetrator
Al-Ghozi revisited Camp Abubakar and several cities across the Philippines. With his good command of Tagalog, al-Ghozi began building contacts and recruiting followers. He also opened a bank account in Zamboanga city, and for the first time obtained a Philippine passport.
He did not stay in one place for too long. When dozens of Islamic militants were arrested in Malaysia and Singapore in December 2001 and January 2002, al-Ghozi was in neither country since he had to run operations in three other countries, including Indonesia.
He held five passports bearing different names such as Sammy Sali Jamil, Abu Saad, Randy Adam Alih, and Mike Saad. Aside from Tagalog, Al-Ghozi was also fluent in English, Arabic, and three Filipino dialects. All his testimony to the Philippine investigators was given in Tagalog. I personally saw those documents, but I could not understand them. Says Ong: “He is very, very intelligent. He spoke very eloquently and he never got angry. But he is highly dedicated.”
In October 2000, al-Ghozi met up with Haji Onos in October 2000 in Marawi City. At the second meeting, according to al-Ghozi’s written confession, Onos asked for his assistance to fund a series of bombings in Manila.
Haji Onos alias Muklis Yunis is an MILF leader. Al-Ghozi had first met him years before, in 1993, when they were both being trained by the al-Qaeda. “He (Haji Onos) told me they had a program that was part of jihad, but they had no money and so they asked for my help. This program was also part of the revenge for the (Philippine military’s) attacks on Camp Abubakar,” said al-Ghozi in his written confession in Tagalog, as quoted by the Manila Standard daily.
Al-Ghozi may have seen the request as dovetailing neatly with his own mission. He immediately contacted Bafana regarding Onos’s request.
Bafana sent al-Ghozi $500.
Aside from Bafana, Al-Ghozi reportedly mentioned the name Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin, another JI supreme council member who is said to be a Ba’asyir follower – and al-Qaeda’s number one man in Southeast Asia. In January 2000, Isamuddin alias Hambali took in two people who would later be among the hijackers of the American Airlines plane used to attack the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Today Hambali is the Southeast Asia’s most wanted person, with the governments of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines hunting him down.
Confessions and denials
Al-Ghozi, however, would deny all these in written replies to questions I had given him. I had a chance to see him in late May 2002 in his cell at Camp Crame, but the meeting was very short. He looked emaciated and pale, perhaps because of his lack of exposure to sunlight. His beard was neatly trimmed, but he complained that he had not been allowed to join in the Friday prayers.
I felt unable to speak freely under the watchful eyes of the police, so I just introduced myself and asked him to answer a list of questions I handed over to him. He made no promises, but a few days after my visit, I received his answers. He wrote, “They’re all just fabricated stories and based on no evidence. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Of Ba’asyir, he said, “When I went to school at that pesantren, he was not around and I never met him. I only know him through the news on today’s media.”
Sholahuddin, the former NII member, thinks it strange for al-Ghozi to claim not knowing Ba’asyir. “Impossible, Ba’asyir’s name is legendary at the Ngruki pesantren,” he says. “So there’s no way if he says he doesn’t know him.”
Ba’asyir himself says that back in the 1990s he had met al-Ghozi in Malaysia. “But,” asserts the cleric, “I never sent him to carry out jihad in the Philippines.”
Al-Ghozi’s Filipino lawyers, however, insist that there is no proof linking their client to al-Qaeda. One of them points out that the house in General Santos in which bombs were found “could have been accessed by the public. Besides, al-Ghozi was arrested in Quiapo, while the bombs were in General Santos. It’s true that al-Ghozi is a bomb expert, but his skill is not a crime.”
When reminded that al-Ghozi had confessed that the bombs were his, the lawyer says, “I don’t understand either why al-Ghozi pleaded guilty. It seems he had been persuaded by the police to confess as the bombs’ owner in order to get a lighter sentence.”
Umar Abduh says al-Ghozi was indeed no longer under Ba’asyir’s control at the time of his arrest. “His connection was with Abu Jibril, a fellow political escapee from Indonesia who lives in Malaysia,” says Abduh. Abu Jibril is also among the prominent NII figures in Malaysia. But his younger brother, Irfan S. Awwas, secretary general of the Indonesian Mujahidin Assembly, says, “How could the story be related to Abu Jibril? On June 30, 2001, he was already put behind bars by the Malaysian government, so he is completely uninvolved in the attacks on World Trade Center.”
Five deadly blasts
On Dec. 30, 2000, as Filipinos were preparing to celebrate the New Year, Manila was rocked by five bomb blasts that occurred almost simultaneously in different parts of the Philippine capital. Hit were a Light Rail Transit station, a passenger bus in Quezon City, two gas stations, and a warehouse at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The bomb that exploded at the LRT station killed 22 people including children and injured at least 100 people.
A day after the bombings, someone calling himself “Freedom Fighter” claimed responsibility for them. “Tell the president this is revenge for what happened in Mindanao,” said the caller. He was apparently referring to the armed forces’ March-June 2000 attack on Camp Abubakar that had been ordered by then President Joseph Estrada.
The bomb blasts, however, occurred at a time when the country was distracted by Estrada’s impeachment trial at the Senate on charges of graft and corruption. It thus took the police two years to track down the caller and reveal “Freedom Fighter” as Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi.
“It’s true, I was one of the people who planned and brought out the bombs that killed and injured many people, and damaged a number of buildings,” said al-Ghozi in the testimony he submitted to the panel of prosecutors. He also said that a few hours after the blasts, he had contacted Bafana and Hambali by cell phone. Then he flew to Malaysia.
As Philippine authorities tell it, al-Ghozi had acceded to Haji Onos’s request. “Al-Ghozi said he gave the money, totaled at P25,000, to Muklis alias Haji Onos, a MILF member,” says Ong. “The money was used to purchase 70 kilograms of explosives in Cebu.”
But then here was the same al-Ghozi writing in reply to my queries, “That’s not true, I can’t even afford to rent my own house, let alone funding something like that.” He added, “How could I possibly be a key figure when I’m not even member of the organization.”
The MILF has also consistently denied the involvement of foreigners in the organization. Said its deputy chairman for politics Ghazali Jaafar: “We don’t know who al-Ghozi is, and we have never used any foreigner to train our fighters. The MILF doesn’t need foreigners’ assistance.”
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself has said, “I want to thank the MILF leaders for declaring their non-alliance with the Abu Sayyaf or Osama bin Laden, and even with the al-Qaeda.”
I can only guess what al-Ghozi would say if I were to ask him about Hussain Ramos, who was arrested by the Philippine police in early July 2002 in Marawi, southern Philippines. The police said al-Ghozi had identified Ramos as having helped him find explosives for the December 2000 bombings. In the interrogation, Ramos admitted to having purchased the explosives in November 2000 for al-Ghozi. (Translated by Fajar Rizaldin Hs.)