Sunday, November 13, 2005

Al-Farouq's escape 'staged': Ex-BIN chief

The Jakarta Post Ridwan Max Sijabat

The escape of terrorist suspect Omar al-Farouq from the United States detention may be a ploy to track down most-wanted terror master Osama bin Laden, a former intelligence chief says.

A.M. Hendropriyono, former State Intelligence Agency (BIN) director, told The Jakarta Post on Friday that he had strong grounds to suspect a hidden agenda behind the escape of al-Farouq, a Kuwait-born terrorist suspect who Indonesia handed over to the U.S. in September 2002, one month before the Bali blasts that killed 202 people.

"Following his escape, al-Farouq appeared in an interview with an Arabian TV station brandishing an automatic rifle. It is impossible that a terrorist group would trust and give him a gun after three years in U.S. detention. It is possible that he was prepared by his users to conduct a special mission.

"Second, it is quite strange that Washington remained silent about al-Farouq's escape. It can be assumed that U.S. security authorities were informed of his escape from the prison in July, but until now, President George W. Bush has not explained it, at least not to the American public," he said.

Hendropriyono, who was responsible for al-Farouq's transfer to U.S. custody, said it was very likely that al-Farouq had been brainwashed during his confinement at the Baghram maximum security detention center in Afghanistan.

"Brainwashing does not take years, it can take just two days," he said.

Hendropriyono said it appeared that al-Farouq's brainwashing had been effective as al-Farouq was cooperative and provided detailed information when two Indonesian police officer questioned him in Afghanistan following the hand-over. Al-Farouq had led the police to Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who is serving his 30-month jail term for conspiring the 2002 Bali blasts.

He also said it was possible that the U.S. was using al-Farouq to trace terrorist networks in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and locate bin Laden, who is still at large following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the U.S.

It is unlikely that al-Farouq would come back to Indonesia as the U.S. had not coordinated with the Indonesian authorities regarding his escape, Hendropriyono added.

The fact that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has warned of possible strikes by al-Farouq indicates that Indonesia was never informed of the apparent U.S. plan, said Hendropriyono.

"But if he returns to Indonesia anyway, BIN and the police know all his contact persons and the accomplices he may look for in Bogor, Poso, Palu, Makassar and Ambon, five towns where he operated between 1999 and 2002," he said.

Asked about the public outrage toward him for handing al-Farouq over to the U.S. three years ago, Hendropriyono said the Indonesian authorities had no legal basis to charge him for terrorism because the country had not enacted an applicable law.

"BIN arrested him because he was one of the most-wanted persons in connection with the Sept. 11 tragedy and then deported him for immigration violations and identity card counterfeit. BIN was never instructed by the U.S. or other countries to arrest him.

"We nabbed him because he was dangerous and if he had not been arrested more people might have been killed in bomb attacks," he said.

Al-Farouq was arrested by intelligence agents in the Bogor Grand Mosque after BIN received a video recording showing him leading a bloody attack on a Christian village in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

Hendropriyono said al-Farouq had held five different passports and various fake Indonesian identity cards under different names but did not speak Indonesian.

The former intelligence chief expressed regret that one of al-Farouq's operatives who was later arrested, Seyam Reda, had escaped and many members of al-Qaeda-related groups were still operating in Poso, where sectarian conflict left 1,000 dead between 2000 and 2001.

Al-Farouq, Reda and several other al-Qaeda operatives were brought into the country by Parlindungan Siregar in 1999, Hendropriyono said. Parlindungan has been declared a suspect in the Madrid bombing in March last year.

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