Room 101 of the Hotel Harum on the ground floor was where the final touches were put to an audacious plot to spread mayhem and carnage in one of the West's favourite playgrounds
If the Hotel Harum has seen better days, it gives no hint. The seedy flophouse in central Denpasar, Bali's capital, has a gloomy foyer with a sagging ceiling and plastic chairs strewn around the broken-tiled floor. A cell-like room with grimy bedding, stained walls and a squat toilet costs £3 a night. At the Harum, you get what you pay for.
Room 101 on the ground floor was where the final touches were put to an audacious plot to spread mayhem and carnage in one of the West's favourite playgrounds. A week later, the Sari Club in Kuta Beach was a smouldering ruin, destroyed by an explosion so massive that it registered on Indonesian seismographs. When the awful task of counting body parts was completed, the death toll stood at 202, including 21 Britons – making Bali one of the worst terrorist atrocities against British nationals.
Room 101 was rented by a Javanese mechanic called Amrozi, who goes on trial in Denpasar on Monday. He is the first of nearly three dozen suspects waiting behind bars to face justice for the bloodiest terrorist act since the al-Qa'ida attacks of 11 September 2001. The case is expected to last for months, but the outcome seems certain: death by firing squad and everlasting martyrdom for Amrozi.
Amrozi, like other principal members of the terrorist cell, has made a detailed confession of his role in last October's Bali bomb. He is alleged to have bought the explosives and the white van that was left outside the Sari Club, the busiest nightspot in Kuta, Bali's main resort. The first suspect to be arrested, he supplied the names, dates and places that enabled Indonesian and Australian detectives to crack the conspiracy with astonishing speed.
His trial will be held in a specially converted auditorium guarded by 3,000 police and bomb squad officers in the suburb of Renon. Proceedings will take place on an elevated stage, with Amrozi seated on a black leather chair bolted to the floor, facing a panel of five judges. The island has only one judge – the rest are being imported from elsewhere in Indonesia.
The case will be gripping, not least because of the insights it will give into the workings of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the regional Islamic terrorist network that provided the infrastructure and funds for the Bali operation.
Despite scores of arrests, JI – which has known links with al-Qa'ida – remains a serious threat to Westerners in South-east Asia. Tim Morris, Australia's director of counter-terrorism, told The Independent yesterday: "They still have the capability and intention to deliver in terms of terrorist acts."
From the wreckage of the Sari Club to the court building in Renon has been a journey of precisely seven months. The bomb plot took far longer to evolve. Its seeds were sown in the 1990s in Malaysia and Afghanistan, in radical Islamic boarding schools that were ideological breeding-grounds for jihad, and al-Qa'ida training camps that instilled the practical skills to wage holy war.
Out of them emerged the disaffected young men who became the leaders and foot soldiers of JI, coming of age at a time when al-Qa'ida – according to intelligence sources – decided to shift its activities to South-east Asia. A young al-Qa'ida recruit, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, was personally selected by Osama bin Laden in late 2001 to travel there and meet JI's regional operations chief, Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali.
Jabarah and Hambali, an Indonesian extremist wanted for earlier bombings, laid ambitious plans to attack Western embassies in Singapore. The plot was foiled and 15 people were arrested including, later, Jabarah. A furious Hambali swore revenge, saying he would hunt down "white meat" – Westerners.
At a meeting in Thailand in February last year, senior JI leaders decided to change strategy. The order was given to go after soft targets: bars, cafés and nightclubs frequented by Westerners.
The meeting was attended by Mukhlas, a senior JI operative now in custody at Denpasar police headquarters. Mukhlas, who trained in Afghanistan, had run a militant madrasah – a religious boarding school – in the Malaysian state of Johor. He was given the task of organising the next major operation, investigators allege.
Mukhlas returned to his home in Tenggulun, a dirt-poor village in East Java, where he signed up his first recruits: his two younger brothers, Amrozi and Ali Imron. The pair idealised Mukhlas, according to police, and were each given important roles. Ali Imron allegedly packed the van with 70kg of explosives – a mix of potassium chlorate, sulphuric acid and aluminium powder – stuffed into filing cabinets.
While Mukhlas was allegedly in overall charge, Imam Samudra – another Afghanistan veteran and burning Islamic ideologue – was field commander. Last August, Samudra moved to Solo in central Java and used text messages to summon fellow plotters including Amrozi and Dulmatin, who later assembled the bomb. Meetings were held in a safehouse and in Solo's batik market.
The plotters prepared themselves for their mission by watching videos of Bin Laden interviews and the 11 September attacks. They went to Denpasar, where several safehouses were rented. At one, a small bomb was tested in the garage; alarmed neighbours were told that an electrical device had exploded.
Samudra, an engineer, claims that he selected Bali as a target, picking out the Sari – which had a policy of admitting only Westerners – as the perfect location. "I saw lots of whiteys dancing and lots of whiteys drinking there," he told police in his confession. "That place ... was a meeting-place for US terrorists and their allies."
The club was packed with tourists as Ali Imron drove the van along Legian Street, Kuta's crowded main thoroughfare, alighting just before the Sari. Two men, both called Iqbal, drove on. One of them, wearing a backpack containing 1kg of TNT explosive, went into Paddy's Bar across the street and blew himself up. Thirty seconds later, the second, massive bomb was detonated, killing the other Iqbal. The survivors went to a mosque in Denpasar to celebrate.
After the blast, Samudra stayed on in Bali for two days to admire his handiwork. Like his co-conspirators, he has shown no remorse. "They say they have done their job as Muslims," said General I Made Mangku Pastika, head of the Indonesian police investigation.
Tariyem, the mother of Amrozi, Mukhlas and Ali Imron, is bereft. "Why would my kids do such a thing?" she asked. "I cannot understand. They were all good kids. They never expressed any hatred for anyone."
Amrozi had left Bali and was back in Tenggulun, watching a boxing match on television, when the bomb exploded. The police arrived just over three weeks later. The van wreckage had yielded a registration number that was traced to him. A red motorbike used by Ali Imron as a getaway vehicle had been left outside the mosque: another clue.
In the coming months, Amrozi's colleagues will follow him into the black leather chair. The key players all face a possible death sentence, a prospect that they are reportedly contemplating with equanimity. Police have supplied a wealth of physical evidence; the legal case is strong even if confessions are retracted.
While the work of the investigators has been rightly praised, several important figures remain at large, including Dulmatin, the bomb maker, and Idris, chief of logistics. Also on the run are Azahari Husin, a British-educated engineer who is JI's top bomb expert, and – most worryingly – Hambali.
Sidney Jones, Indonesia director of the International Crisis Group, which has extensively researched JI, said: "A key strategist is still out there who can mobilise people in future. As long as Hambali is free, he continues to be very dangerous."
Mick Keelty, the Australian Federal Police commissioner, whose officers played a big part in the Bali investigation, has warned of another attack. He said: "If you look at the experience in the United Kingdom with the IRA, where there were gaps between certain bombings – periods of preparation where they sit back and plan the next target – clearly we are in that position now."
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