Operations chief of regional terror group confesses to bombing

Friday, December 6, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The alleged operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah confessed to helping plan the Bali bombings, Indonesian police said Thursday -- the strongest evidence yet the al-Qaida-linked group was behind the blasts that killed nearly 200.

The arrest of Mukhlas, also known as Ali Gufron, could give investigators clues about Jemaah Islamiyah, which seeks an Islamic state in Southeast Asia and allegedly planned a series of attacks on Western interests in the region.

Foreign governments believe Jemaah Islamiyah was behind the Oct. 12 Bali blasts, but so far Indonesian police have refused to blame the group.

That could change as they gather more information from Mukhlas, who was arrested Tuesday. He has been cooperative so far, providing details of his role in the attacks and his position with Jemaah Islamiyah.

"Mukhlas, alias Ali Gufron, has confessed to being a member of Jemaah Islamiyah," Maj. Gen. I Made Mangku Pastika told reporters.

Mukhlas told police the Bali bombings were planned in August at meetings he attended in Solo, Pastika said.

Mukhlas was believed to have replaced Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, as operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah. Hambali is in hiding, and may be in Pakistan, Indonesian police said.

However, it is likely Hambali played a role in the attack, said Lt. Gen. Erwin Mapaseng, chief of national police detectives. Hambali gave about $35,500 to Mukhlas, who then distributed the money to four other operatives -- including his brother, Amrozi, who confessed to purchasing a minivan used in the attack, Mapaseng said.

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