The operational cooperation between Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) of south East Asia is one of the most interesting test cases and primary examples of personal relations that turned into operational cooperation between two terror organizations.
The roots of the JI go back to the early days of the Indonesian struggle for independence. Among the different groups that took part in this struggle was the "Dar al-Islam" (DAI) - an Indonesian group mostly inspired by the Egyptian "Muslim brotherhood" movement. This group called for the implementation of the sharia (Islamic( law over Indonesia as soon as it gained its independence. During Sohareto's 40 years of secular regime in the country, the movement experienced an era of persecution and had to operate underground. Its biggest achievement during this era was the establishment (1970) of "Ngurki Pondok" – an Islamic boarding school near the city of solo in the java island.
As a result of the on going persecutions the leaders of DAI decided (1985) to look for some military training. Hence, since that year, dozens of "Ngurki Ponduk" graduates went to Afghanistan and were transferred by the Maktab Al Khadamat (MAK)** to Abd al-Rasul Sayaf's group Al Itihad al-Islami al-Afghani. They received basic training and fought among the ranks of the Afghan group against the soviet army. Al Itihad al-Islami al-Afghani, and most of all - its main training camp - the "Sadah" camp, served as a melting pot for different mujaheddin (Holy war volunteers) gathered in Sadah from all over the world.
When the Afghan war was over, several Indonesian graduates of the Sadah camp, first and foremost Radwan Issam al-Din – better known as Hambali, continued their operational activities and began to target western targets, specifically Americans. Ramzi Yousef and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) were the most important activists of this group that conducted the first attack on the New York's WTC (February 1993) and the "Bojinka plot" (January 1995) in which Sadah camp graduates attempted to crush 11 American commercial jets over the Pacific ocean in one day. The "Bojinka plot" was exposed and the group was dismantled, with several senior activists arrested and others who became fugitives.
KSM, who at that stage had already envisioned a 9/11 style operation, which got rejected by AQ leader Usama Bin Laden, got into a deep freeze for over three years. Hambali went back to Indonesia and joined the other "Ngurki Ponduk" graduates, who later became the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), with Hambali serving as the military chief of the organization. In late 1998-early 1999, KSM joined Al-Qaeda and was appointed by Usama Bin Laden as the head of Al-Qaeda's special operations unit, while receiving the green light to prepare the planned attack in New York and Washington that was eventually executed on September 11th 2001.
KSM used his former relations with Hambali, by then the military chief of JI, to further his activities within Al-Qaeda, which laid the groundwork for the operational cooperation between the two organizations. The JI was involved in several Al-Qaeda attacks, projects and plots, mostly in south East Asia:
- The September 11 attacks – some of the most important meetings of the planned attacks were carried out in JI safe houses in Malaysia.
- The Bali attack - executed by JI on October 2002 with the direction and finance of Al-Qaeda.
- The Anthrax project of AQ aimed at producing a biological weapon was headed by Yazid Sufat, a micro-biology scientist and JI Malaysian activist.
- The planned operation to conduct second wave of 9/11 style operation in south East Asia was financed by Al-Qaeda and relied on JI activists in the region.
- The plot to conduct large scale simultaneous attack on several western targets in Singapore (end of 2001) was an outcome of operational cooperation in all levels between the two organizations.
- The JI attack on Marriott hotel in Jakarta (Aug 2003) was fully financed by Al-Qaeda.
- The JI plot to target Israeli targets including an El-Al flight in Bangkok (spring 2003) was directed and financed by Al-Qaeda.
- JI's Islamic convert activist Jack Roch was personally directed by KSM and Hambali to reconnaissance Israeli targets in Australia.
The volume of the operational cooperation between the two organizations was severely reduced following the arrests of KSM (February 2003) and Hambali (August 2003). In addition to that, the internal South East Asian infrastructure of JI suffered a major blow by the local security services and many JI activists were arrested or killed. These developments were soon reflected in a sharp decrease of JI's operational capabilities, as well as its target selection, as the organization refocused on local targets instead of international ones.
Nevertheless, the strict echelon and infrastructure of JI (click the following links to see JI's geographical distribution and infrastructure) has already served the organization more in the past in the attempts to regroup, plan and conduct new terror operations in the region, and therefore the JI continues to pose the biggest terror threat in South East Asia.
** The MAK was established in 1984 in the Pakistani-Afghani border city of Peshawar by Abdullah Azzam in order to treat the increasing numbers of volunteers that came to Afghanistan to join the local Afghan groups in their fight against the invading soviet army. The MAK established some order and its main task was to transfer the foreign volunteers between the different afghan groups.
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