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Indonesian Terror Mastermind Captured in Thailand

Riduan Isamuddin, better known by his nickname Hambali, remains in U.S. custody after Thai police and CIA agents captured him Monday in the ancient Buddhist city of Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Hambali, a leader of the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, or Islamic community, had been living in a one-room apartment in the city north of Bangkok when residents gave officials the tip that led to his arrest.

“We arrested the suspect after people notified police about the appearance of the foreigner,” Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said, according to an Associated Press report. “And after we checked his passport we found that he’s the one that’s wanted by several countries.”

In addition to being wanted in the United States for ties to the Sept. 11 attacks, the reportedly 40-year-old Hambali is also wanted in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore.

U.S. officials hailed the arrest as a victory in the war on terror.

“He is no longer a problem to those of us who love freedom,” President Bush said in a speech Thursday. “And neither are nearly two-thirds of known senior al-Qaida leaders, operational managers and key facilitators who have been captured or have been killed.”

Intelligence officials believe Hambali may have been al-Qaida’s Southeast Asia connection and a top bin Laden lieutenant. Hambali is accused of organizing a meeting between two of the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers in 2000 and of masterminding several bombings, including a rash of church bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines in 2000, and a failed plot to bomb western targets in Singapore in late 2001.

Filipino and Indonesian officials have blamed Hambali’s Jemaah Islamiyah for the bombings of a series of nightclubs in Bali last year that killed 202 people and of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, earlier this month, which killed 12 people.

News services also quoted American officials as saying Hambali and other Jemaah Islamiyah members may also have ties to the USS Cole bombing in Yemen in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. servicemen.

Indonesian Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil has said that Hambali is second in command to Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, currently on trial in Indonesia for simultaneous church bombings in 2000 that killed 18 people.

Ba’asyir has denied any connection to the group, whose mission is to create a separate Islamic state in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

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