'Bali bomb leader' captured, says US

The alleged terrorist leader believed to be behind a string of terror attacks in Indonesia including the Bali bombing in which more than 200 people were killed, has been captured.

The White House said last night that Riduan bin Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, had been seized in South-east Asia and was in American custody at an undisclosed location outside the United States.

He was arrested in Ayutthaya in central Thailand on Monday in a joint operation led by the CIA. Thai sources said that he had already been flown to Indonesia.

"His capture is another important victory in the global war on terrorism and a significant blow to the enemy," Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, told reporters on board Air Force One as George Bush flew from Texas to southern California. Officials said he was "one of the world's most lethal terrorists" and his capture was "a significant blow to the enemy". Mr Bush said: "He is no longer a problem for those of us who love freedom."

Hambali has been described as al-Qa'ida's chief representative and operational planner in South-east Asia. His group, Jemaah Islamiyah, was linked to the Bali bombing in October and a series of deadly church bombings in the Philippines.

He is also suspected of being behind last week's bombing at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in which 12 people were killed and about 150 were hurt. A car bomb, placed inside a Toyota Kijang, Indonesia's best-selling car, was used in both attacks.

Hambali is said to have been a close associate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 11 September mastermind who was captured in March in Pakistan. Some officials said he was also involved in the attacks on New York and Washington though his alleged role is unclear. A White House official said earlier this year that Hambali received a "large sum of money for a major attack", with the cash coming from an al-Qa'ida leader in Pakistan.

An Indonesian court is due shortly to pass judgment on Imam Samudra, who faces the death penalty after being convicted over the Bali bombing.