From Madiun to the World Headlines

Juni 19, 2002 § Tinggalkan komentar

The story of the political adventure and activity of Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi

By: Coen Husain Pontoh

On Tuesday, January 15, when it was still five in the morning, over a dozen officers from various units in the Philippine security forces raided Quiapo, an area chiefly populated by Muslims in Manila City. Their target was to arrest an Indonesian national named Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who was intending to fly to Bangkok later that day.

Two days after the arrest, the Philippine security forces launched another raid on a house in General Santos City, hundreds of kilometers to the south of Manila. The house had been rented by al-Ghozi. There, they found 50 sacks of explosives weighing a total of 1.1 ton, 300 detonators, and six coils of detonator cables, each 400 m long.

Not a single media reported the arrest. It wasn’t until the next day, Friday, January 18, that the Philippine government exposed the results of its operations. “The explosives were going to be sent to Singapore,” said Andrea Domingo, commissioner of the Philippine Immigration.

“He (a-Ghozi) claims to have in his possession 1,100 kilograms of explosives from his contact in Cebu City last year. According to him, the explosives were brought in from Cebu to General Santos to be sent out to a number of ASEAN countries,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jose Mabanta, spokesman of the Philippine Army.

Al-Ghozi’s arrest caused a big effect. Two months before, United States as well as its intelligence networks in Malaysia and Singapore had put Indonesia under suspicion of being “a terrorists’ lair” as US officials were vigorously searching for tracks of al-Qaeda, the prime main suspect of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In Indonesia, the arrest had caused feelings of distress, uneasy, anger, and indecision as to whether to believe or disbelieve the story.

Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi was born from parents Muhamad Zainuri and Rukanah, in Mojorejo village, Madiun regency, East Java, on December 17, 1971. Al-Ghozi is the oldest of four children. His two brothers, Alif and Ridho, according to Rukanah, are now seeking their fortune in Malaysia. His sister, Erni, still lives with her parents in Madiun. “Ever since I was young, I have wanted to become a successful businessman,” said al-Ghozi to me in a written interview in Manila.

However, it’s surely hard to predict where one’s life would lead. Instead of becoming a businessman, al-Ghozi is now behind bars at Camp Crame prison in Quezon City, Manila. On April 18, a Philippine court declared him guilty of illegal possession of explosives and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

The history of al-Ghozi’s family is closely related to a tradition of resistance. His father, Zainuri, was a former member of the Komando Jihad that was part of the group known as the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) back in the 1970s. Zainuri became an active member of the Komando Jihad in 1977. When an Islamic militant group, Jama’ah Imran, hijacked a Garuda Indonesia airplane codenamed Woyla in Thailand in 1982, the police accused Zainuri of involvement in the incident. He was quickly arrested and fired from his profession as a teacher.

Young al-Ghozi witnessed his father’s activity although it is unclear as to how much this had affected him and how far was Zainuri involved in the hijack. Umar Abduh, a former Jama’ah Imron member, who shared the same cell with Zainuri at Malang prison in 1982, told me: “Zainuri was not even the least involved in the Woyla case. He’s purely a NII member.”

However, his past still leaves Zainuri feeling uncomfortable. Agus Basuki, a reporter in Madiun, quoting Zainuri’s words, said: “That was part of the past that no longer needs to be brought up and it’s already been washed down the drain. There’s no use [of bringing it up], especially in its relation to Fathur.”

When President Suharto’s regime was toppled in May 1998, Zainuri returned to the political stage by joining the Crescent Star Party. He is now member of the local legislature in Madiun, sitting at Commission B and leading the National Star Faction, which comprises members from the Crescent Star Party and the National Mandate Party. Zainuri now believes the struggle to uphold the Islamic law, or sharia, is more effectively done through parliamentary ways.

Meanwhile, Rukanah was previously a teacher at the Kembang Sawit State Islamic High School. Two years ago, she retired and is now a fulltime homemaker. According to Rukanah, ever since al-Ghozi was younger, she and her husband had already got used to being away from their firstborn. After finishing his education at the Mojorejo I State Elementary School, al-Ghozi then became a santri, or student, at the Al-Mukmin pesantren, or Islamic boarding school, in Ngruki, Sukoharjo, led by Farid Ma’ruf.

At the pesantren, al-Ghozi received his mid-level education and was on his way to becoming an ulema, or Islamic cleric. According to Zainuri, al-Ghozi made the decision himself to study at Ngruki. Ever since he moved from Mojorejo to Solo, communications between al-Ghozi and his family had practically been cut off.

“His student’s registration number was 00812 and he graduated in the 12th period, in the academic year of 1988/1989,” said Farid Ma’ruf. According to Kamdi, al-Ghozi’s uncle, the Zainuri family had considered their first child lost. “I once heard that he went to college in Malaysia. But the truth is I don’t know,” said Rukanah.

In 1996, the lost child showed up at the doorstep of his family’s home in Mojorejo. Zainuri said that at that time his son spent most of his times visiting relatives. Not long after that, al-Ghozi left Mojorejo again.

Last year, al-Ghozi returned to visit his family. This time, according to Zainuri, his son returned with a Malaysian woman he claimed as his wife. However, Zainuri quickly added, while at home, al-Ghozi never once introduced his wife to the other family members. “He only spoke about the time when he was a santri at the Al-Mukmin,” told Zainuri.

According to Farid Ma’ruf, al-Ghozi was not an exceptional santri at Ngruki. Ma’ruf said so because he didn’t pay much attention to al-Ghozi. “An exceptional santri would certainly be easily recognized by the teachers.” Zainuri told me in Madiun that after his son graduated in 1990, al-Ghozi continued his study in Lahore, Pakistan. “Everyone in the family shared the expense of sending Fathur to Pakistan. Once he was there, I believe his education was free of charge.”

It was this ‘incommunicado’ period between al-Ghozi and his family, from 1990 to 1996, that has now become the focus of investigation by the US intelligence as well as those of several Southeast Asian countries. It was during those years that al-Ghozi is believed to have received training from the al-Qaeda network in Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the governments of Singapore and the Philippines, al-Ghozi was one of the key leaders of the Jamaah Islamiyah, an organization considered to be part of the al-Qaeda network in Southeast Asia and intent on attacking American interests in the region.

“The Singaporean government is positively pointing out that Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi is one of the key leaders of the Jamaah Islamiyah,” says Robert Delfin, the intelligence director of the Philippine Police.

“I don’t believe that my son is involved in a terrorist network. The accusation could possibly be just a sponsor’s message from the governments of America and other countries that bow to America,” said Zainuri.

This could only perhaps be a father’s instinct for Zainuri is unable to explain why his son admitted to be in possession of one ton of explosives found in General Santos. “I don’t know what my son’s activities were. He only told me that he had been working in Malaysia as an instructor or a preacher,” told Zainuri.

“To the Philippine investigators, al-Ghozi said that he came to the Philippines to carry out a jihad. What’s your comment on that?” I asked him again.

“If it’s to defend Muslims being oppressed then it is not wrong. If it’s what the religion demands, then it’s not a problem because everything has been predestined. You are speaking to me now is also because of Allah’s predestination. So everything has to be returned to Allah,” explained Zainuri.

HISTORY shows that Islam was at one time reached the highest point in the world’s civilization. By the 15th century, Islamdom was the world’s greatest power—not dissimilar to the United States today. “In the 16th century, when Europe was still in the early stages of its rise to power, the Ottoman Empire—that ruled Turkey, the Middle East and Northern Africa—was probably already the most powerful and up-to-date society in the world,” wrote British writer and theology expert Karen Armstrong in her article September Apocalypse: Who, Why and What Next?

When the Western world began to work with money-based economic structures, putting rationality over rigid ecclesiastical dogmas, and building nation-state structures with clear boundaries, binding laws, and large military power, the bright light of Islamic civilization was slowly fading out. It was as if Islamdom had been drowning under the oppression of European colonialism. This culminated with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the last Islamic empire, in 1923.

What had once been a winner had now become a loser. However, the new rulers were not any better than the old ones. “The colonial powers treated the ‘natives’ with contempt, and it was not long before Muslims discovered that their new rulers despised their religious traditions,” says Armstrong.

The Muslims then slowly resurrected, catching up with everything they had been left behind, and challenging the oppression by the West. The reactions have been varied; some approved and followed the examples of Western modernization. Some completely rejected this, declared the West infidel and decided to return to the Islamic tradition. The others tried to combine Western modernization and traditional wisdom.

The rise of Islamic radicalism is a reaction to modernity. The rise of radicalism is also a response to the external pressures considered to be a threat to the Muslims’ existence. Armstrong says that fundamentalism, in any faith, represents a rebellion against the secularist ethos of modernity.

One of this is Ikhwanul Muslimin. This organization was founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928 in Egypt. Al-Banna viewed the degeneration of Muslims as result of repression by authoritarian regimes and influence of secularism, both capitalist and communist. Ikhwanul Muslimin is intent on upholding the dignity of Muslims in all levels of life. “Actually, Ikhwanul Muslimin is a Salafi dakwa (propagation), a Sunnite order, a Sufism reality, a political body, a sports club, an association of scientific and cultural forums, an economic enterprise, and a social thinking,” said al-Banna.

In a short time Ikhwanul Muslimin grew into a large organization. Not only in Egypt but it also spread across the borders to Sudan, Tunisia, Jordan, and even Indonesia. “Ikhwanul Muslimin is the first Islamic organization and the largest after the fall of the Turkish Ottoman Empire,” wrote Fathi Yakan in his book on Hasan al-Banna’s revolution.

In reaching its political goal, the Ikhwanul Muslimin is known to use a number of methods. At one time it follows the parliamentary ways, while at another it actively uses extra-parliamentary ways. The use of violence has automatically become inevitable. Based on the organizational structure, the Ikhwanul Muslimin uses two structural layers: legal and illegal. As result, the life of this movement is full of dynamics and high political intensity.

According to Fathi Yakan, these dynamics and intensity have resulted in the emergence of different groups or concepts of the Islamic movement, such as the radical groups that are fond of using violence or confrontation; the traditional Salafi groups; and the cooperative movement groups that are willing to cooperate with the government.

One of the radical factions that first broke away from the Ikhwanul Muslimin was the Jihad al-Islami faction, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to Sholahuddin, former member of the Indonesian Islamic State who is now secretary general of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists, by the end of 1970s, the Jihad al-Islami had been split in two: the Jihad al-Islami and the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, led by Syaikh Umar Abd al-Rahman.

According to Umar Abduh, a former Komando Jihad member, the two Ikhwanul Muslimin’s radical splinter organizations formed an alliance with Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden in February 1998, and announced the establishment of a new alliance called the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. “The Jihad al-Islami and the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya have made an alliance with Osama only to fight against the United States. But organizationally they remain separate,” explained Abduh.

It was a strategic alliance. This was proven by the position taken by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Jihad al-Islami’s leader, who is the right hand as well as the deputy of Osama bin Laden. It was also al-Zawahiri whom CNN reported to have come to Aceh last year to seek possibility of launching al-Qaeda’s operations from the region. Meanwhile, Rifa’i Taha Musa’a, leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, was named al-Qaeda senior member.

AFTER the United States successfully bombarded al-Qaeda’s defense bases in Afghanistan, the hunt for terrorists did not automatically come to an end. Although Osama bin Laden has lost its geographical base, he is still at large. The al-Qaeda is still in operation, spreading fear to the United States and countries that support the “war on terrorism” campaign.

The war objective has also expanded, both geographically and organizationally. A number of countries and regions in the world are suspected of being al-Qaeda network’s breeding grounds. Jane’s Intelligence Review in a report titled “Al-Qaeda in Asia” stated that the al-Qaeda has not only successfully built operative networks in America, Europe, and East Africa, but also in Asia. “Considering al-Qaeda’s fondness of running its operations in a Muslim country or a country with a substantial Muslim population, countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, make an easy target.”

Why is Southeast Asia considered a fertile ground for the al-Qaeda network? Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s senior minister, in his speech at a security conference last July in Singapore, named three factors that encourage the radicalization of a part of Southeast Asia’s Muslim society.

First, since the price of oil quadrupled in 1973, the Saudi Arabian government has generously funded the dakwa activities, and construction of mosques and religious schools throughout the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia is also paying the ulemas to teach and practice the conservative teachings of the Wahabist Islam.

Second, the overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlevi in Iran in a revolution led by the ulemas in 1979. This victory has had a profound impact on Muslims’ belief on Islam’s power.

Third, the participation of a large number of Southeast Asian Muslims in the war in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s. This participation has radicalized significant numbers of Muslims in this region.

When Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi was arrested, the attention of the intelligence and the reporters quickly turned to Indonesia. The country with the largest Muslim population in the world is considered prone to the activities of international terrorists. According to Angel M. Rabasa, in a testimony titled “Southeast Asia After 9/11: Regional Trends and US Interest”, which he delivered at a US congressional hearing, amidst the ongoing political upheaval, enduring economic crisis, and weak enforcement of the law, Indonesia is a fertile ground for terrorism, radical groups and separatist movements.

“They represent a small minority of Muslims, but they have the potential to influence a larger substratum of the Muslim population,” said Rabasa.

Reyko Huang, a senior analyst from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information, said that in Indonesia some unspecified evidence has been found on the connection between a number of radical Islamic organizations and the al-Qaeda. Huang chiefly points out at Abubakar Ba’asyir, an ulema from the Ngruki pesantren, as the spiritual leader of the Jamaah Islamiyah, a terrorist group allegedly responsible for a series of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines in the past two years. Ngruki happens to be al-Ghozi’s alma mater.

Reyko Huang also mentioned the name Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali, one of Ba’asyir’s disciples when the two lived in Malaysia in the 1990s. The Malaysian government is accusing Hambali of being a leading figure of the Malaysian Mujahidin Group (KMM). The two organizations, the Jama’ah Islamiyah and KMM, have well-organized cells in Southeast Asia. The main task of their Afghanistan-trained members is to expand the al-Qaeda network in the region.

ALL the accusations regarding the al-Qaeda network in Southeast Asia, interestingly enough, always mention the figure of Abubakar Ba’asyir. Perhaps this is linked to Ba’asyir’s political history that is synonymous to the radical Islamic movement. According to Umar Abduh, in 1977, Ba’asyir and his fellow comrade in struggle, Abdullah Sungkar, were sworn in by Haji Ismail Pranoto, or better known as Hispran, as members of the Indonesian Islamic State which was then led by Adah Djaelani Tirtapradja.

Ba’asyir refuted this. “If only being friends with NII people, then it’s true,” Ba’asyir told me. Moreover he considers Hispran as an agent of Ali Murtopo, former head of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and a special assistant to then President Suharto.

However, Abduh is certain that Sungkar and Ba’asyir were both sworn in by Hispran. When I told him about Ba’asyir’s conviction that Hispran was a military spy, Abduh was surprised for he knows Sungkar and Ba’asyir highly respected Hispran. “But if he denies being an NII member, I guess it’s only a present-day awareness in order to save himself,” said Abduh.

So where does exactly the radicalism of Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s religious understandings stand? According to Sholahudin, a journalist who was once a member of the Indonesian Islamic State, Islamic teachings-wise, Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s understandings are no different than those of the majority of Muslims. This means when they speak about Islamic laws, it’s almost the same to what is taught at the pesantrens belonging to the Muhammadiyah. The difference lies on the high political contents, which made the Ngruki pesantren seen as the pesantren of the radicals during the 1980s.

“The political content was particularly in regard to the concept of an Islamic state. To them, the existence of an Islamic state was important because they believed that Islam is a way of life, a system of life that covers not only ritual aspects such as daily prayers (shalat), alms (zakat), and fasting; but also social and political aspects. This social aspect could not be enforced without an institution called a state. At this point, they referred to a concept in Islamic teachings that says mala’yatimul wajib illa bihi fahuwa wajid (an action needed to enforce an obligation is obligatory by law). Therefore, without an Islamic state there was no way that Islamic sharia could be enforced,” explained Sholahuddin.

Such understandings led Sungkar to calling the Suharto regime as the thogut, or evil, government. In 1978, they were both arrested under subversion charges and detained without a trial for four years. In 1982, they were finally tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison. However Sungkar and Ba’asyir appealed and, in 1984, fled to Malaysia.

In Malaysia Sungkar and Ba’asyir continued to be active at local Qu’ran recitation groups, propagating the importance of the enforcement of the Islamic sharia. According to Ba’asyir, they called their group As-Sunnah. With the war waging in Afghanistan and Mindanao in the southern Philippines, the two became even more vigorous in their activities. Ba’asyir said that Muslims were obliged to help and defend their fellow Muslims who were being oppressed by the Infidels. Ba’asyir once went to Pakistan and met with the anti-Soviet mujahidin fighters at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The international experience has expanded the horizon of Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s movement. If their vision had previously been to establish the Islamic state of Indonesia, now they were fighting to establish an Islamic empire. According to Umar Abduh, in 1995 Sungkar and Ba’asyir declared themselves out of the structures and teachings of NII. The two joined in methodologically to the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya led by Omar Abd al-Rahman. “I said methodologically. This is different from being affiliated organizationally, and in this case, I don’t have accurate facts,” said Abduh.

When I tried to verify this to Ba’asyir, he, again, refuted this. “That story is nothing but a manipulation by the Infidels. I have never joined the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. But I know them as an organization based in Egypt.”

It certainly is not easy to prove Abubakar Ba’asyir’s involvement in the al-Qaeda especially if referring to Ba’asyir’s activities in Indonesia after he decided to return from Malaysia in 2000. “Right now they are trying to use democratic ways to campaign the enforcement of Islamic sharia. I don’t know about other countries,” said Abduh.

The lack of strong evidence has made the Indonesian government upset with various accusations of al-Qaeda’s involvement in the country. “Give us strong evidence that there is an al-Qaeda network in Indonesia,” challenges Marty M. Natalegawa from Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Indonesian government’s lenient stance in supporting America’s antiterrorism campaign has disturbed the politicians in Washington, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila. However, it is not exactly true if it is said that President Megawati’s administration is not supporting America’s campaign.

Last January, Jakarta arrested and sent a Pakistani national named Havis Muhammad Saad Iqbal to Egypt under the suspicion of involvement in terrorism in that country. Iqbal is also allegedly involved in the December 22, 2001 incident when a Briton named Richard Reid, was trying to explode an American Airlines plane flying from Paris to Miami by setting off explosives implanted in his shoes. Reid was quickly subdued by the flight crew and other passengers. Iqbal was arrested in Matraman, Jakarta.

On last June 5, Jakarta also arrested a Kuwaiti named Omar al-Faruq in West Java and sent him to the United States. Al-Faruq is accused of being a fundraiser for an Islamic foundation whose fund is partly channeled to the al-Qaeda in Indonesia. Al-Faruq’s name and phone number were found at the same time as the capture of Abu Zubayda, operational chief of the al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

However, compared to what the governments in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines have done, Indonesian government’s actions have surely been seen as meager. Singapore has arrested 15 members of the Jamaah Islamiyah while about 60 were arrested Malaysia. “Indonesian government’s support is essentially limited to mere rhetoric. Not in implementation,” said Reyko Huang.

“The reason is because President Megawati Sukarnoputri depends on the coalition of Islamic political parties for the political support her government needs,” explained Dana Dillon from The Heritage Foundation, Washington.

Perhaps it’s also this cautiousness that made the Indonesian government decide to make little publicity on the arrest of Omar al-Faruq, alias Mahmoud bin Ahmad Assegaf. Indonesian media did not much cover it either although this information was already reported by CNN and The New York Times.

ONE of Manila’s charges against Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi is his position as one of the key leaders of the Jamaah Islamiya. The Jamaah Islamiyah is accused of being an organization within the al-Qaeda network that operates in Southeast Asia. Its main goal is to establish the Islamic State of Southeast Asia. Abubakar Ba’asyir is allegedly the organization’s spiritual leader.

According to Robet Delfin, intelligence director of the Philippine Police, the beginning of al-Ghozi’s involvement took place when he was undertaking Islamic studies in Lahore. In 1992, two Indonesian nationals recruited al-Ghozi to join the Jamaah Islamiyah. During the investigation, al-Ghozi said that he often went to a camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, for a month, to join trainings in weaponry and bombing in 1993-1994. “The camp is associated to the al-Qaeda,” said Delfin.

After finishing his studies, according to al-Ghozi’s testimony in front of a team of Philippine prosecutors led by prosecutor Peter Ong, al-Ghozi was ordered by Abubakar Ba’asyir to take part in the jihad war in the Philippines. The method was by infiltrating into the Philippines through General Santos in South Cotabato. From Manado, the provincial capital of North Sulawesi, al-Ghozi began his mission in December 1996.

“During the first few years, he was here to study the local language, open a bank account, and obtain a passport,” said Peter Ong.

Al-Ghozi often moved around between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, to evade intelligence observation. In his disguise, he held five passports under different pseudonyms, such as Sammy Sali Jamil, Abu Saad, Randy Adam Alih, and Mike Saad. Al-Ghozi was also fluent in several languages, including English, Arab, Tagalog and three Filipino dialects. All his testimony to the Philippine investigators was given in Tagalog. I personally saw those documents in Tagalog, but unfortunately I didn’t know what they meant. “He is very, very intelligent. He spoke very eloquently and he never got angry. But he is highly dedicated,” Ong said.

When the governments of Malaysia and Singapore arrested dozens of Islamic militant members last December and January, al-Ghozi was not in either country since he had to run operations in three other countries, including Indonesia.

According to Manila’s investigation, al-Ghozi carried a special task in the Jamaah Islamiyah, mainly a task from Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana, a businessman described as a member of the Jamaah’s Islamiyah’ shura area, or supreme council. Bafana is now behind bars in Singapore.

Al-Ghozi also reportedly mentioned the name Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin, another shura area member who is allegedly the number one al-Qaeda person in Southeast Asia. Isamuddin alias Hambali, in January 2000, took in two people who would later be among the hijackers of the American Airlines plane used to attack the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Today Hambali is the most wanted person in Southeast Asia. The governments of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines are hunting this man down. Hambali is considered as the key person in unraveling the al-Qaeda structures in the region.

But to me, all the stories from Manila were refuted by al-Ghozi. I met al-Ghozi late last May in his cell at Camp Crame. It’s not easy to meet al-Ghozi due to his status as a prisoner of maximum security. Al-Ghozi himself never makes any statement to the press. The Indonesian Embassy in Manila always gives way for people wishing to meet him, especially journalists from Indonesia. But al-Ghozi refuses. For all legal matters, since he is still facing other charges or investigations, he has delegated them to his defense attorneys. For anything outside legal matters: no comment!

Octavino Alimuddin, second secretary at the Indonesian Embassy, helped to arrange my meeting with al-Ghozi. Octavino is the Indonesian diplomat in charge of handling all the Indonesians arrested in Manila. I finally met al-Ghozi by using the excuse of wanting to visit Agus Dwikarna, an Indonesian charged with illegal possession of two C4 plastic explosives and four detonator cables. Dwikarna occupies a cell close to al-Ghozi’s. Dwikarna is sentenced to 17 years in prison by a court in Manila.

When I met him, al-Ghozi looked emaciated. His skin was clean, perhaps due to lack of exposure to sunlight, and his beard was neatly trimmed. He complained to me about not being allowed to join in the Friday prayers. The meeting was very short. I was practically unable to speak freely under the watchful eyes of the Philippine police. I only introduced myself and asked him to give written answers to my questions.

Al-Ghozi made me no promise. However, I received his answers a few days later. “They’re all just fabricated stories and based on no evidence. It just doesn’t make sense,” wrote al-Ghozi.

“What’s your comment on the figure of ustadz (teacher) Abubakar Ba’asyir?” I asked.

“When I went to school at that pesantren, he was not around and I never met him. I only know him through the news on today’s media,” wrote al-Ghozi.

Atty Linzag, al-Ghozi’s lawyer from Linzag, Arcilla and Associates Law Office, also stated that his client is completely innocent. “I don’t believe that al-Ghozi is connected to the al-Qaeda network,” said Linzag when I interviewed him at his Manila office.

"What makes you believe he’s innocent?” I asked him again.

"Because there’s no proof supporting the allegation,” said Linzag.

"But at his rented house in General Santos, bombs were found in a large number,” I said to him.

"That’s true, but we have to see that the bombs were not specifically controlled. That house could have been accessed by the public. Besides, al-Ghozi was arrested in Quiapo, while the bombs were in General Santos. It’s true that al-Ghozi is a bomb expert, but his skill is not a crime,” he said.

"But al-Ghozi has confessed that the bombs were his,” I asked.

"I don’t understand either why al-Ghozi pleaded guilty. It seems he had been persuaded by the police to confess as the bombs’ owner in order to get a lighter sentence,” said Linzag.

On all the refutations, including those from Zainuri, the Philippine Police remain adamant. They are insistent that al-Ghozi is linked to the al-Qaeda. “How could he say that his son is not connected with terrorist activity while he has never seen al-Ghozi since 1997,” said Robert Delfin.

Sholahuddin also thinks it strange if al-Ghozi does not know Ba’asyir. “Impossible, Ba’asyir’s name is legendary at the Ngruki pesantren. So there’s no way if he says he doesn’t know him,” he said.

Al-Ghozi’s statement also sounds discordant for Ba’asyir himself told me that back in the 1990s he had met al-Ghozi in Malaysia. “But I never sent him to carry out jihad in the Philippines,” Ba’asyir said.

According to Umar Abduh, al-Ghozi was indeed no longer under Ba’asyir’s control. “His connection was with Abu Jibril, a fellow political escapee from Indonesia who lives in Malaysia,” said Abduh. Abu Jibril is the elder brother of Irfan S. Awwas, secretary general of the Indonesian Mujahidin Assembly. Abu Jibril is one of NII figures in Malaysia. When there was a breakup in 1995 in Malaysia, when Abdullah Sungkar and Ba’asyir detached themselves from NII, Abu Jibril remained there. He then went on to establish the NII-version Jamaah Islamiyah in opposition to the Sungkar-version Jamaah Islamiyah that’s affiliated to the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.

The wall separating the Sungkar-Ba’asyir camp and the Abu Jibril camp, seemed to be melting down after Abdullah Sungkar passed away. The moment came at the Indonesian Mujahidin Assembly congress on August 5-7, 2000 in Yogyakarta. Initiated by Awwas and attended also by Abu Jibril, the congress agreed to appoint Ba’asyir as the Ahlul Halli Wal Aqdi chairman or Amirul Mujahidin.

"How could the story be related to Abu Jibril? On June 30, 2001, he was already put behind bars by the Malaysian government, so he is completely uninvolved in the attacks on World Trade Center,” said Irfan S. Awwas.

DECEMBER 30, 2000, five bomb blasts that occured almost simultaneously rocked the city of Manila. The festive mood of the Manila residents who were getting ready to celebrate the New Year suddenly turned somber. Anger and sorrow were felt everywhere.

Each of the bombs exploded at a Light Rail Transit station, a passenger bus in Quezon City, two gas stations on Edsa and Pasay Road, and a warehouse at the Ninoy Aquino airport. The bomb that exploded at the LRT station killed 22 people including children and injured at least 100 others.

A day after the bombings, someone who called himself “Freedom Fighter”, claimed responsibility for the incidents. “Tell the president this is revenge for what happened in Mindanao,” said the mysterious caller.

The caller was referring to what happened when President Joseph Estrada, from March to June 2000, ordered 3,000 Philippine soldiers to attack Camp Abubakar, the base camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Camp Abubakar fell to the Philippine military forces. Surviving MILF members escaped to the mountains, five kilometers away from Camp Abubakar. There they built a new camp named Camp Jabal Nur.

The Philippine Police were unable to reveal the identity of the “Freedom Fighter”. At the same time, a national political upheaval was taking place in Manila. President Estrada was facing an impeachment trial by the Philippine Senates on his alleged involvement in illegal gambling and corruption.

It wasn’t until two years later when the identity of the “Freedom Fighter” became known with the capture of Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi.

“It’s true, I was one of the people who planned and brought out the bombs that killed and injured many people, and damaged a number of buildings,” said al-Ghozi in a written confession in front of a panel of prosecutors led by Peter Ong.

How was al-Ghozi linked to the bombings? According to the Philippine security forces, the story began when al-Ghozi received a special assignment from the Jamaah Islamiyah to infiltrate into the Philippines in 1996. When he first came to the Philippines, al-Ghozi’s contact was Haji Onos alias Muklis Yunis, leader of MILF.

The relationship between Haji Onos and al-Ghozi went back many years ago. The two were trained together by the al-Qaeda in 1993. Through Haji Onos, al-Ghozi arrived at Camp Abubakar in 1996. Here he stayed at Campo Muslim, a Muslim community in Cotabato City. While there he learned to speak Tagalog and taught MILF fighters how to use explosives.

"Yes, a number of Indonesian had previously come to Camp Abubakar,” said Mating Magandatao, an imam living in Tugaig village, Barira city, to Newsbreak, a magazine published in Manila.

"We did not understand their language. They looked just like us, and we also asked around and got the information that they were Indonesians. They all seemed good people,” added Magandatao.

However, through its deputy chairman for politics, Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF denies the involvement of foreigners in the organization.

"We don’t know who al-Ghozi is, and we have never used any foreigner to train our fighters. The MILF doesn’t need foreigners’ assistance,” said Jaafar.

"This is another form of trying to accuse the MILF as a terrorist organization,” said Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman, as quoted by the Philippine Star News.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also denies MILF’s involvement in the al-Qaeda network. “I want to thank the MILF leaders for declaring their non-alliance with the Abu Sayyaf or Osama bin Laden, and even with the al-Qaeda,” said Arroyo in front of 1,500 residents of Culiat subdistrict in Quezon City.

So, with whom did al-Ghozi make contacts in Mindanao? Let’s go back for a while to Malaysia, where Abdullah Sungkar and Abubakar Ba’asyir sought refuge. During their time there, the Malaysian network was sending out its best cadres to two main places: Afghanistan and Mindanao. There they were ordered to wage a jihad war to defend their fellow Muslims.

Based on al-Ghozi’s written confession to the Philippine panel of prosecutors, his arrival in the Philippines was under the order of Abubakar Ba’asyir. In Mindanao, he was active at Camp Abubakar. After Camp Abubakar, he and his friends formed the Kompi Badar that was known to be very radical.

According to Sholahudin, after their return to Indonesia, these former members of the Kompi Badar founded what is now known as the Nusantara Islamic Mujahidin Generation. “They are notoriously radical, even in the NII they are not considered part of NII.”

Al-Ghozi stayed for a month at Camp Abubakar before returning to Indonesia. Not much is learned about his activity in 1997. In March 1998, al-Ghozi reentered the Philippines and worked under direct supervision of Faiz bin Abubakar Bafana from Singapore. He revisited Camp Abubakar and several cities in different regions. With his good command of Tagalog, al-Ghozi began building contacts and recruiting followers. He also opened a bank account in Zamboanga city, and for the first time, obtained a Philippine passport.

In March 1999, al-Ghozi returned to the Philippines. This time he was on a special mission, to build a channel for purchasing explosives. He met Haji Onos in October 2000 in Marawi City. At the second meeting, according to al-Ghozi’s written confession, Haji Onos asked for his assistance to fund a series of bombings in Manila.

"He (Haji Onos) told me they had a program that was part of jihad, but they had no money and so they asked for my help. This program was also part of the revenge for the attacks on Camp Abubakar,” said al-Ghozi in a written confession in Tagalog, as quoted by the Manila Standard daily.

This turned out to be the right thing at the right moment. Al-Ghozi saw the request for assistance as a golden opportunity for the success of the task he was carrying. He immediately contacted Bafana to tell about Haji Onos’s request. Bafanas seemed to agree and sent US$500 to al-Ghozi.

"Al-Ghozi said he gave the money, totaled at 25,000 pesos, to Muklis alias Haji Onos, a MILF member. The money was used to purchase 70 kilograms of explosives in Cebu,” said Peter Ong.

Shortly after, Manila was rocked by five successive bomb blasts. A few hours after the blasts, by using a cellular phone, al-Ghozi contacted Faiz bin Abubakar Bafana and Hambali. Then he flew to Malaysia.

"That’s not true, I can’t even afford to rent my own house, let alone funding something like that,” said al-Ghozi refuting the entire story constructed by the Philippine government.

"How could I possibly be a key figure when I’m not even member of the organization,” added al-Ghozi. To reveal who Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi really is, is not an easy thing to do. At one time he confessed that the explosives were his. At another, he refuted his own confession. The illegal ownership of one ton of explosives could land him behind bars for 12 years. But the accusations of his involvement in the Jamaah Islamiyah, Abubakar Ba’asyir, or the bombings on December 30, 2000, still need to be proven.

Early last July, when I had already left Manila, the Philippine Police arrested Hussain Ramos in Marawi, southern Philippines. Not much information was available on Ramos except that he was 35 years old. Police announced that Ramos was arrested based on al-Ghozi’s information that Ramos had help al-Ghozi find explosives for the December 2000 bombings. In the interrogation, Ramos admitted to having purchased the explosives in November 2000 for al-Ghozi.

I don’t know what answer will al-Ghozi give if he is asked about Hussain Ramos. I could only remember him as a skinny, courteous and clean-skinned Indonesian youth who is being detained at Camp Crame.

(pontoh_2001@lycos.com)

Translated by: Fajar Rizaldin Hs.
Coen Pontoh is Indonesian journalist. He wrote this story based on his research on Media situation in Philippines and his interview with Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, an Indonesia convicted of possessing firearms in Philippines. Pontoh also traced back to his family background in Indonesia.

He went to cover the story in Philippine in June under SEAPA Fellowship Program. The same story was published in Indonesian-language Pantau Magazine where he works for.
The story of the political adventure and activity of Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi

By: Coen Husain Pontoh

On Tuesday, January 15, when it was still five in the morning, over a dozen officers from various units in the Philippine security forces raided Quiapo, an area chiefly populated by Muslims in Manila City. Their target was to arrest an Indonesian national named Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who was intending to fly to Bangkok later that day.

Two days after the arrest, the Philippine security forces launched another raid on a house in General Santos City, hundreds of kilometers to the south of Manila. The house had been rented by al-Ghozi. There, they found 50 sacks of explosives weighing a total of 1.1 ton, 300 detonators, and six coils of detonator cables, each 400 m long.

Not a single media reported the arrest. It wasn’t until the next day, Friday, January 18, that the Philippine government exposed the results of its operations. “The explosives were going to be sent to Singapore,” said Andrea Domingo, commissioner of the Philippine Immigration.

“He (a-Ghozi) claims to have in his possession 1,100 kilograms of explosives from his contact in Cebu City last year. According to him, the explosives were brought in from Cebu to General Santos to be sent out to a number of ASEAN countries,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jose Mabanta, spokesman of the Philippine Army.

Al-Ghozi’s arrest caused a big effect. Two months before, United States as well as its intelligence networks in Malaysia and Singapore had put Indonesia under suspicion of being “a terrorists’ lair” as US officials were vigorously searching for tracks of al-Qaeda, the prime main suspect of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In Indonesia, the arrest had caused feelings of distress, uneasy, anger, and indecision as to whether to believe or disbelieve the story.

Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi was born from parents Muhamad Zainuri and Rukanah, in Mojorejo village, Madiun regency, East Java, on December 17, 1971. Al-Ghozi is the oldest of four children. His two brothers, Alif and Ridho, according to Rukanah, are now seeking their fortune in Malaysia. His sister, Erni, still lives with her parents in Madiun. “Ever since I was young, I have wanted to become a successful businessman,” said al-Ghozi to me in a written interview in Manila.

However, it’s surely hard to predict where one’s life would lead. Instead of becoming a businessman, al-Ghozi is now behind bars at Camp Crame prison in Quezon City, Manila. On April 18, a Philippine court declared him guilty of illegal possession of explosives and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

The history of al-Ghozi’s family is closely related to a tradition of resistance. His father, Zainuri, was a former member of the Komando Jihad that was part of the group known as the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) back in the 1970s. Zainuri became an active member of the Komando Jihad in 1977. When an Islamic militant group, Jama’ah Imran, hijacked a Garuda Indonesia airplane codenamed Woyla in Thailand in 1982, the police accused Zainuri of involvement in the incident. He was quickly arrested and fired from his profession as a teacher.

Young al-Ghozi witnessed his father’s activity although it is unclear as to how much this had affected him and how far was Zainuri involved in the hijack. Umar Abduh, a former Jama’ah Imron member, who shared the same cell with Zainuri at Malang prison in 1982, told me: “Zainuri was not even the least involved in the Woyla case. He’s purely a NII member.”

However, his past still leaves Zainuri feeling uncomfortable. Agus Basuki, a reporter in Madiun, quoting Zainuri’s words, said: “That was part of the past that no longer needs to be brought up and it’s already been washed down the drain. There’s no use [of bringing it up], especially in its relation to Fathur.”

When President Suharto’s regime was toppled in May 1998, Zainuri returned to the political stage by joining the Crescent Star Party. He is now member of the local legislature in Madiun, sitting at Commission B and leading the National Star Faction, which comprises members from the Crescent Star Party and the National Mandate Party. Zainuri now believes the struggle to uphold the Islamic law, or sharia, is more effectively done through parliamentary ways.

Meanwhile, Rukanah was previously a teacher at the Kembang Sawit State Islamic High School. Two years ago, she retired and is now a fulltime homemaker. According to Rukanah, ever since al-Ghozi was younger, she and her husband had already got used to being away from their firstborn. After finishing his education at the Mojorejo I State Elementary School, al-Ghozi then became a santri, or student, at the Al-Mukmin pesantren, or Islamic boarding school, in Ngruki, Sukoharjo, led by Farid Ma’ruf.

At the pesantren, al-Ghozi received his mid-level education and was on his way to becoming an ulema, or Islamic cleric. According to Zainuri, al-Ghozi made the decision himself to study at Ngruki. Ever since he moved from Mojorejo to Solo, communications between al-Ghozi and his family had practically been cut off.

“His student’s registration number was 00812 and he graduated in the 12th period, in the academic year of 1988/1989,” said Farid Ma’ruf. According to Kamdi, al-Ghozi’s uncle, the Zainuri family had considered their first child lost. “I once heard that he went to college in Malaysia. But the truth is I don’t know,” said Rukanah.

In 1996, the lost child showed up at the doorstep of his family’s home in Mojorejo. Zainuri said that at that time his son spent most of his times visiting relatives. Not long after that, al-Ghozi left Mojorejo again.

Last year, al-Ghozi returned to visit his family. This time, according to Zainuri, his son returned with a Malaysian woman he claimed as his wife. However, Zainuri quickly added, while at home, al-Ghozi never once introduced his wife to the other family members. “He only spoke about the time when he was a santri at the Al-Mukmin,” told Zainuri.

According to Farid Ma’ruf, al-Ghozi was not an exceptional santri at Ngruki. Ma’ruf said so because he didn’t pay much attention to al-Ghozi. “An exceptional santri would certainly be easily recognized by the teachers.” Zainuri told me in Madiun that after his son graduated in 1990, al-Ghozi continued his study in Lahore, Pakistan. “Everyone in the family shared the expense of sending Fathur to Pakistan. Once he was there, I believe his education was free of charge.”

It was this ‘incommunicado’ period between al-Ghozi and his family, from 1990 to 1996, that has now become the focus of investigation by the US intelligence as well as those of several Southeast Asian countries. It was during those years that al-Ghozi is believed to have received training from the al-Qaeda network in Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the governments of Singapore and the Philippines, al-Ghozi was one of the key leaders of the Jamaah Islamiyah, an organization considered to be part of the al-Qaeda network in Southeast Asia and intent on attacking American interests in the region.

“The Singaporean government is positively pointing out that Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi is one of the key leaders of the Jamaah Islamiyah,” says Robert Delfin, the intelligence director of the Philippine Police.

“I don’t believe that my son is involved in a terrorist network. The accusation could possibly be just a sponsor’s message from the governments of America and other countries that bow to America,” said Zainuri.

This could only perhaps be a father’s instinct for Zainuri is unable to explain why his son admitted to be in possession of one ton of explosives found in General Santos. “I don’t know what my son’s activities were. He only told me that he had been working in Malaysia as an instructor or a preacher,” told Zainuri.

“To the Philippine investigators, al-Ghozi said that he came to the Philippines to carry out a jihad. What’s your comment on that?” I asked him again.

“If it’s to defend Muslims being oppressed then it is not wrong. If it’s what the religion demands, then it’s not a problem because everything has been predestined. You are speaking to me now is also because of Allah’s predestination. So everything has to be returned to Allah,” explained Zainuri.

HISTORY shows that Islam was at one time reached the highest point in the world’s civilization. By the 15th century, Islamdom was the world’s greatest power—not dissimilar to the United States today. “In the 16th century, when Europe was still in the early stages of its rise to power, the Ottoman Empire—that ruled Turkey, the Middle East and Northern Africa—was probably already the most powerful and up-to-date society in the world,” wrote British writer and theology expert Karen Armstrong in her article September Apocalypse: Who, Why and What Next?

When the Western world began to work with money-based economic structures, putting rationality over rigid ecclesiastical dogmas, and building nation-state structures with clear boundaries, binding laws, and large military power, the bright light of Islamic civilization was slowly fading out. It was as if Islamdom had been drowning under the oppression of European colonialism. This culminated with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the last Islamic empire, in 1923.

What had once been a winner had now become a loser. However, the new rulers were not any better than the old ones. “The colonial powers treated the ‘natives’ with contempt, and it was not long before Muslims discovered that their new rulers despised their religious traditions,” says Armstrong.

The Muslims then slowly resurrected, catching up with everything they had been left behind, and challenging the oppression by the West. The reactions have been varied; some approved and followed the examples of Western modernization. Some completely rejected this, declared the West infidel and decided to return to the Islamic tradition. The others tried to combine Western modernization and traditional wisdom.

The rise of Islamic radicalism is a reaction to modernity. The rise of radicalism is also a response to the external pressures considered to be a threat to the Muslims’ existence. Armstrong says that fundamentalism, in any faith, represents a rebellion against the secularist ethos of modernity.

One of this is Ikhwanul Muslimin. This organization was founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928 in Egypt. Al-Banna viewed the degeneration of Muslims as result of repression by authoritarian regimes and influence of secularism, both capitalist and communist. Ikhwanul Muslimin is intent on upholding the dignity of Muslims in all levels of life. “Actually, Ikhwanul Muslimin is a Salafi dakwa (propagation), a Sunnite order, a Sufism reality, a political body, a sports club, an association of scientific and cultural forums, an economic enterprise, and a social thinking,” said al-Banna.

In a short time Ikhwanul Muslimin grew into a large organization. Not only in Egypt but it also spread across the borders to Sudan, Tunisia, Jordan, and even Indonesia. “Ikhwanul Muslimin is the first Islamic organization and the largest after the fall of the Turkish Ottoman Empire,” wrote Fathi Yakan in his book on Hasan al-Banna’s revolution.

In reaching its political goal, the Ikhwanul Muslimin is known to use a number of methods. At one time it follows the parliamentary ways, while at another it actively uses extra-parliamentary ways. The use of violence has automatically become inevitable. Based on the organizational structure, the Ikhwanul Muslimin uses two structural layers: legal and illegal. As result, the life of this movement is full of dynamics and high political intensity.

According to Fathi Yakan, these dynamics and intensity have resulted in the emergence of different groups or concepts of the Islamic movement, such as the radical groups that are fond of using violence or confrontation; the traditional Salafi groups; and the cooperative movement groups that are willing to cooperate with the government.

One of the radical factions that first broke away from the Ikhwanul Muslimin was the Jihad al-Islami faction, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to Sholahuddin, former member of the Indonesian Islamic State who is now secretary general of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists, by the end of 1970s, the Jihad al-Islami had been split in two: the Jihad al-Islami and the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, led by Syaikh Umar Abd al-Rahman.

According to Umar Abduh, a former Komando Jihad member, the two Ikhwanul Muslimin’s radical splinter organizations formed an alliance with Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden in February 1998, and announced the establishment of a new alliance called the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. “The Jihad al-Islami and the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya have made an alliance with Osama only to fight against the United States. But organizationally they remain separate,” explained Abduh.

It was a strategic alliance. This was proven by the position taken by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Jihad al-Islami’s leader, who is the right hand as well as the deputy of Osama bin Laden. It was also al-Zawahiri whom CNN reported to have come to Aceh last year to seek possibility of launching al-Qaeda’s operations from the region. Meanwhile, Rifa’i Taha Musa’a, leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, was named al-Qaeda senior member.

AFTER the United States successfully bombarded al-Qaeda’s defense bases in Afghanistan, the hunt for terrorists did not automatically come to an end. Although Osama bin Laden has lost its geographical base, he is still at large. The al-Qaeda is still in operation, spreading fear to the United States and countries that support the “war on terrorism” campaign.

The war objective has also expanded, both geographically and organizationally. A number of countries and regions in the world are suspected of being al-Qaeda network’s breeding grounds. Jane’s Intelligence Review in a report titled “Al-Qaeda in Asia” stated that the al-Qaeda has not only successfully built operative networks in America, Europe, and East Africa, but also in Asia. “Considering al-Qaeda’s fondness of running its operations in a Muslim country or a country with a substantial Muslim population, countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, make an easy target.”

Why is Southeast Asia considered a fertile ground for the al-Qaeda network? Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s senior minister, in his speech at a security conference last July in Singapore, named three factors that encourage the radicalization of a part of Southeast Asia’s Muslim society.

First, since the price of oil quadrupled in 1973, the Saudi Arabian government has generously funded the dakwa activities, and construction of mosques and religious schools throughout the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia is also paying the ulemas to teach and practice the conservative teachings of the Wahabist Islam.

Second, the overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlevi in Iran in a revolution led by the ulemas in 1979. This victory has had a profound impact on Muslims’ belief on Islam’s power.

Third, the participation of a large number of Southeast Asian Muslims in the war in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s. This participation has radicalized significant numbers of Muslims in this region.

When Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi was arrested, the attention of the intelligence and the reporters quickly turned to Indonesia. The country with the largest Muslim population in the world is considered prone to the activities of international terrorists. According to Angel M. Rabasa, in a testimony titled “Southeast Asia After 9/11: Regional Trends and US Interest”, which he delivered at a US congressional hearing, amidst the ongoing political upheaval, enduring economic crisis, and weak enforcement of the law, Indonesia is a fertile ground for terrorism, radical groups and separatist movements.

“They represent a small minority of Muslims, but they have the potential to influence a larger substratum of the Muslim population,” said Rabasa.

Reyko Huang, a senior analyst from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information, said that in Indonesia some unspecified evidence has been found on the connection between a number of radical Islamic organizations and the al-Qaeda. Huang chiefly points out at Abubakar Ba’asyir, an ulema from the Ngruki pesantren, as the spiritual leader of the Jamaah Islamiyah, a terrorist group allegedly responsible for a series of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines in the past two years. Ngruki happens to be al-Ghozi’s alma mater.

Reyko Huang also mentioned the name Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali, one of Ba’asyir’s disciples when the two lived in Malaysia in the 1990s. The Malaysian government is accusing Hambali of being a leading figure of the Malaysian Mujahidin Group (KMM). The two organizations, the Jama’ah Islamiyah and KMM, have well-organized cells in Southeast Asia. The main task of their Afghanistan-trained members is to expand the al-Qaeda network in the region.

ALL the accusations regarding the al-Qaeda network in Southeast Asia, interestingly enough, always mention the figure of Abubakar Ba’asyir. Perhaps this is linked to Ba’asyir’s political history that is synonymous to the radical Islamic movement. According to Umar Abduh, in 1977, Ba’asyir and his fellow comrade in struggle, Abdullah Sungkar, were sworn in by Haji Ismail Pranoto, or better known as Hispran, as members of the Indonesian Islamic State which was then led by Adah Djaelani Tirtapradja.

Ba’asyir refuted this. “If only being friends with NII people, then it’s true,” Ba’asyir told me. Moreover he considers Hispran as an agent of Ali Murtopo, former head of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and a special assistant to then President Suharto.

However, Abduh is certain that Sungkar and Ba’asyir were both sworn in by Hispran. When I told him about Ba’asyir’s conviction that Hispran was a military spy, Abduh was surprised for he knows Sungkar and Ba’asyir highly respected Hispran. “But if he denies being an NII member, I guess it’s only a present-day awareness in order to save himself,” said Abduh.

So where does exactly the radicalism of Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s religious understandings stand? According to Sholahudin, a journalist who was once a member of the Indonesian Islamic State, Islamic teachings-wise, Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s understandings are no different than those of the majority of Muslims. This means when they speak about Islamic laws, it’s almost the same to what is taught at the pesantrens belonging to the Muhammadiyah. The difference lies on the high political contents, which made the Ngruki pesantren seen as the pesantren of the radicals during the 1980s.

“The political content was particularly in regard to the concept of an Islamic state. To them, the existence of an Islamic state was important because they believed that Islam is a way of life, a system of life that covers not only ritual aspects such as daily prayers (shalat), alms (zakat), and fasting; but also social and political aspects. This social aspect could not be enforced without an institution called a state. At this point, they referred to a concept in Islamic teachings that says mala’yatimul wajib illa bihi fahuwa wajid (an action needed to enforce an obligation is obligatory by law). Therefore, without an Islamic state there was no way that Islamic sharia could be enforced,” explained Sholahuddin.

Such understandings led Sungkar to calling the Suharto regime as the thogut, or evil, government. In 1978, they were both arrested under subversion charges and detained without a trial for four years. In 1982, they were finally tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison. However Sungkar and Ba’asyir appealed and, in 1984, fled to Malaysia.

In Malaysia Sungkar and Ba’asyir continued to be active at local Qu’ran recitation groups, propagating the importance of the enforcement of the Islamic sharia. According to Ba’asyir, they called their group As-Sunnah. With the war waging in Afghanistan and Mindanao in the southern Philippines, the two became even more vigorous in their activities. Ba’asyir said that Muslims were obliged to help and defend their fellow Muslims who were being oppressed by the Infidels. Ba’asyir once went to Pakistan and met with the anti-Soviet mujahidin fighters at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The international experience has expanded the horizon of Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s movement. If their vision had previously been to establish the Islamic state of Indonesia, now they were fighting to establish an Islamic empire. According to Umar Abduh, in 1995 Sungkar and Ba’asyir declared themselves out of the structures and teachings of NII. The two joined in methodologically to the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya led by Omar Abd al-Rahman. “I said methodologically. This is different from being affiliated organizationally, and in this case, I don’t have accurate facts,” said Abduh.

When I tried to verify this to Ba’asyir, he, again, refuted this. “That story is nothing but a manipulation by the Infidels. I have never joined the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. But I know them as an organization based in Egypt.”

It certainly is not easy to prove Abubakar Ba’asyir’s involvement in the al-Qaeda especially if referring to Ba’asyir’s activities in Indonesia after he decided to return from Malaysia in 2000. “Right now they are trying to use democratic ways to campaign the enforcement of Islamic sharia. I don’t know about other countries,” said Abduh.

The lack of strong evidence has made the Indonesian government upset with various accusations of al-Qaeda’s involvement in the country. “Give us strong evidence that there is an al-Qaeda network in Indonesia,” challenges Marty M. Natalegawa from Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Indonesian government’s lenient stance in supporting America’s antiterrorism campaign has disturbed the politicians in Washington, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila. However, it is not exactly true if it is said that President Megawati’s administration is not supporting America’s campaign.

Last January, Jakarta arrested and sent a Pakistani national named Havis Muhammad Saad Iqbal to Egypt under the suspicion of involvement in terrorism in that country. Iqbal is also allegedly involved in the December 22, 2001 incident when a Briton named Richard Reid, was trying to explode an American Airlines plane flying from Paris to Miami by setting off explosives implanted in his shoes. Reid was quickly subdued by the flight crew and other passengers. Iqbal was arrested in Matraman, Jakarta.

On last June 5, Jakarta also arrested a Kuwaiti named Omar al-Faruq in West Java and sent him to the United States. Al-Faruq is accused of being a fundraiser for an Islamic foundation whose fund is partly channeled to the al-Qaeda in Indonesia. Al-Faruq’s name and phone number were found at the same time as the capture of Abu Zubayda, operational chief of the al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

However, compared to what the governments in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines have done, Indonesian government’s actions have surely been seen as meager. Singapore has arrested 15 members of the Jamaah Islamiyah while about 60 were arrested Malaysia. “Indonesian government’s support is essentially limited to mere rhetoric. Not in implementation,” said Reyko Huang.

“The reason is because President Megawati Sukarnoputri depends on the coalition of Islamic political parties for the political support her government needs,” explained Dana Dillon from The Heritage Foundation, Washington.

Perhaps it’s also this cautiousness that made the Indonesian government decide to make little publicity on the arrest of Omar al-Faruq, alias Mahmoud bin Ahmad Assegaf. Indonesian media did not much cover it either although this information was already reported by CNN and The New York Times.

ONE of Manila’s charges against Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi is his position as one of the key leaders of the Jamaah Islamiya. The Jamaah Islamiyah is accused of being an organization within the al-Qaeda network that operates in Southeast Asia. Its main goal is to establish the Islamic State of Southeast Asia. Abubakar Ba’asyir is allegedly the organization’s spiritual leader.

According to Robet Delfin, intelligence director of the Philippine Police, the beginning of al-Ghozi’s involvement took place when he was undertaking Islamic studies in Lahore. In 1992, two Indonesian nationals recruited al-Ghozi to join the Jamaah Islamiyah. During the investigation, al-Ghozi said that he often went to a camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, for a month, to join trainings in weaponry and bombing in 1993-1994. “The camp is associated to the al-Qaeda,” said Delfin.

After finishing his studies, according to al-Ghozi’s testimony in front of a team of Philippine prosecutors led by prosecutor Peter Ong, al-Ghozi was ordered by Abubakar Ba’asyir to take part in the jihad war in the Philippines. The method was by infiltrating into the Philippines through General Santos in South Cotabato. From Manado, the provincial capital of North Sulawesi, al-Ghozi began his mission in December 1996.

“During the first few years, he was here to study the local language, open a bank account, and obtain a passport,” said Peter Ong.

Al-Ghozi often moved around between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, to evade intelligence observation. In his disguise, he held five passports under different pseudonyms, such as Sammy Sali Jamil, Abu Saad, Randy Adam Alih, and Mike Saad. Al-Ghozi was also fluent in several languages, including English, Arab, Tagalog and three Filipino dialects. All his testimony to the Philippine investigators was given in Tagalog. I personally saw those documents in Tagalog, but unfortunately I didn’t know what they meant. “He is very, very intelligent. He spoke very eloquently and he never got angry. But he is highly dedicated,” Ong said.

When the governments of Malaysia and Singapore arrested dozens of Islamic militant members last December and January, al-Ghozi was not in either country since he had to run operations in three other countries, including Indonesia.

According to Manila’s investigation, al-Ghozi carried a special task in the Jamaah Islamiyah, mainly a task from Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana, a businessman described as a member of the Jamaah’s Islamiyah’ shura area, or supreme council. Bafana is now behind bars in Singapore.

Al-Ghozi also reportedly mentioned the name Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin, another shura area member who is allegedly the number one al-Qaeda person in Southeast Asia. Isamuddin alias Hambali, in January 2000, took in two people who would later be among the hijackers of the American Airlines plane used to attack the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Today Hambali is the most wanted person in Southeast Asia. The governments of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines are hunting this man down. Hambali is considered as the key person in unraveling the al-Qaeda structures in the region.

But to me, all the stories from Manila were refuted by al-Ghozi. I met al-Ghozi late last May in his cell at Camp Crame. It’s not easy to meet al-Ghozi due to his status as a prisoner of maximum security. Al-Ghozi himself never makes any statement to the press. The Indonesian Embassy in Manila always gives way for people wishing to meet him, especially journalists from Indonesia. But al-Ghozi refuses. For all legal matters, since he is still facing other charges or investigations, he has delegated them to his defense attorneys. For anything outside legal matters: no comment!

Octavino Alimuddin, second secretary at the Indonesian Embassy, helped to arrange my meeting with al-Ghozi. Octavino is the Indonesian diplomat in charge of handling all the Indonesians arrested in Manila. I finally met al-Ghozi by using the excuse of wanting to visit Agus Dwikarna, an Indonesian charged with illegal possession of two C4 plastic explosives and four detonator cables. Dwikarna occupies a cell close to al-Ghozi’s. Dwikarna is sentenced to 17 years in prison by a court in Manila.

When I met him, al-Ghozi looked emaciated. His skin was clean, perhaps due to lack of exposure to sunlight, and his beard was neatly trimmed. He complained to me about not being allowed to join in the Friday prayers. The meeting was very short. I was practically unable to speak freely under the watchful eyes of the Philippine police. I only introduced myself and asked him to give written answers to my questions.

Al-Ghozi made me no promise. However, I received his answers a few days later. “They’re all just fabricated stories and based on no evidence. It just doesn’t make sense,” wrote al-Ghozi.

“What’s your comment on the figure of ustadz (teacher) Abubakar Ba’asyir?” I asked.

“When I went to school at that pesantren, he was not around and I never met him. I only know him through the news on today’s media,” wrote al-Ghozi.

Atty Linzag, al-Ghozi’s lawyer from Linzag, Arcilla and Associates Law Office, also stated that his client is completely innocent. “I don’t believe that al-Ghozi is connected to the al-Qaeda network,” said Linzag when I interviewed him at his Manila office.

"What makes you believe he’s innocent?” I asked him again.

"Because there’s no proof supporting the allegation,” said Linzag.

"But at his rented house in General Santos, bombs were found in a large number,” I said to him.

"That’s true, but we have to see that the bombs were not specifically controlled. That house could have been accessed by the public. Besides, al-Ghozi was arrested in Quiapo, while the bombs were in General Santos. It’s true that al-Ghozi is a bomb expert, but his skill is not a crime,” he said.

"But al-Ghozi has confessed that the bombs were his,” I asked.

"I don’t understand either why al-Ghozi pleaded guilty. It seems he had been persuaded by the police to confess as the bombs’ owner in order to get a lighter sentence,” said Linzag.

On all the refutations, including those from Zainuri, the Philippine Police remain adamant. They are insistent that al-Ghozi is linked to the al-Qaeda. “How could he say that his son is not connected with terrorist activity while he has never seen al-Ghozi since 1997,” said Robert Delfin.

Sholahuddin also thinks it strange if al-Ghozi does not know Ba’asyir. “Impossible, Ba’asyir’s name is legendary at the Ngruki pesantren. So there’s no way if he says he doesn’t know him,” he said.

Al-Ghozi’s statement also sounds discordant for Ba’asyir himself told me that back in the 1990s he had met al-Ghozi in Malaysia. “But I never sent him to carry out jihad in the Philippines,” Ba’asyir said.

According to Umar Abduh, al-Ghozi was indeed no longer under Ba’asyir’s control. “His connection was with Abu Jibril, a fellow political escapee from Indonesia who lives in Malaysia,” said Abduh. Abu Jibril is the elder brother of Irfan S. Awwas, secretary general of the Indonesian Mujahidin Assembly. Abu Jibril is one of NII figures in Malaysia. When there was a breakup in 1995 in Malaysia, when Abdullah Sungkar and Ba’asyir detached themselves from NII, Abu Jibril remained there. He then went on to establish the NII-version Jamaah Islamiyah in opposition to the Sungkar-version Jamaah Islamiyah that’s affiliated to the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.

The wall separating the Sungkar-Ba’asyir camp and the Abu Jibril camp, seemed to be melting down after Abdullah Sungkar passed away. The moment came at the Indonesian Mujahidin Assembly congress on August 5-7, 2000 in Yogyakarta. Initiated by Awwas and attended also by Abu Jibril, the congress agreed to appoint Ba’asyir as the Ahlul Halli Wal Aqdi chairman or Amirul Mujahidin.

"How could the story be related to Abu Jibril? On June 30, 2001, he was already put behind bars by the Malaysian government, so he is completely uninvolved in the attacks on World Trade Center,” said Irfan S. Awwas.

DECEMBER 30, 2000, five bomb blasts that occured almost simultaneously rocked the city of Manila. The festive mood of the Manila residents who were getting ready to celebrate the New Year suddenly turned somber. Anger and sorrow were felt everywhere.

Each of the bombs exploded at a Light Rail Transit station, a passenger bus in Quezon City, two gas stations on Edsa and Pasay Road, and a warehouse at the Ninoy Aquino airport. The bomb that exploded at the LRT station killed 22 people including children and injured at least 100 others.

A day after the bombings, someone who called himself “Freedom Fighter”, claimed responsibility for the incidents. “Tell the president this is revenge for what happened in Mindanao,” said the mysterious caller.

The caller was referring to what happened when President Joseph Estrada, from March to June 2000, ordered 3,000 Philippine soldiers to attack Camp Abubakar, the base camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Camp Abubakar fell to the Philippine military forces. Surviving MILF members escaped to the mountains, five kilometers away from Camp Abubakar. There they built a new camp named Camp Jabal Nur.

The Philippine Police were unable to reveal the identity of the “Freedom Fighter”. At the same time, a national political upheaval was taking place in Manila. President Estrada was facing an impeachment trial by the Philippine Senates on his alleged involvement in illegal gambling and corruption.

It wasn’t until two years later when the identity of the “Freedom Fighter” became known with the capture of Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi.

“It’s true, I was one of the people who planned and brought out the bombs that killed and injured many people, and damaged a number of buildings,” said al-Ghozi in a written confession in front of a panel of prosecutors led by Peter Ong.

How was al-Ghozi linked to the bombings? According to the Philippine security forces, the story began when al-Ghozi received a special assignment from the Jamaah Islamiyah to infiltrate into the Philippines in 1996. When he first came to the Philippines, al-Ghozi’s contact was Haji Onos alias Muklis Yunis, leader of MILF.

The relationship between Haji Onos and al-Ghozi went back many years ago. The two were trained together by the al-Qaeda in 1993. Through Haji Onos, al-Ghozi arrived at Camp Abubakar in 1996. Here he stayed at Campo Muslim, a Muslim community in Cotabato City. While there he learned to speak Tagalog and taught MILF fighters how to use explosives.

"Yes, a number of Indonesian had previously come to Camp Abubakar,” said Mating Magandatao, an imam living in Tugaig village, Barira city, to Newsbreak, a magazine published in Manila.

"We did not understand their language. They looked just like us, and we also asked around and got the information that they were Indonesians. They all seemed good people,” added Magandatao.

However, through its deputy chairman for politics, Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF denies the involvement of foreigners in the organization.

"We don’t know who al-Ghozi is, and we have never used any foreigner to train our fighters. The MILF doesn’t need foreigners’ assistance,” said Jaafar.

"This is another form of trying to accuse the MILF as a terrorist organization,” said Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman, as quoted by the Philippine Star News.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also denies MILF’s involvement in the al-Qaeda network. “I want to thank the MILF leaders for declaring their non-alliance with the Abu Sayyaf or Osama bin Laden, and even with the al-Qaeda,” said Arroyo in front of 1,500 residents of Culiat subdistrict in Quezon City.

So, with whom did al-Ghozi make contacts in Mindanao? Let’s go back for a while to Malaysia, where Abdullah Sungkar and Abubakar Ba’asyir sought refuge. During their time there, the Malaysian network was sending out its best cadres to two main places: Afghanistan and Mindanao. There they were ordered to wage a jihad war to defend their fellow Muslims.

Based on al-Ghozi’s written confession to the Philippine panel of prosecutors, his arrival in the Philippines was under the order of Abubakar Ba’asyir. In Mindanao, he was active at Camp Abubakar. After Camp Abubakar, he and his friends formed the Kompi Badar that was known to be very radical.

According to Sholahudin, after their return to Indonesia, these former members of the Kompi Badar founded what is now known as the Nusantara Islamic Mujahidin Generation. “They are notoriously radical, even in the NII they are not considered part of NII.”

Al-Ghozi stayed for a month at Camp Abubakar before returning to Indonesia. Not much is learned about his activity in 1997. In March 1998, al-Ghozi reentered the Philippines and worked under direct supervision of Faiz bin Abubakar Bafana from Singapore. He revisited Camp Abubakar and several cities in different regions. With his good command of Tagalog, al-Ghozi began building contacts and recruiting followers. He also opened a bank account in Zamboanga city, and for the first time, obtained a Philippine passport.

In March 1999, al-Ghozi returned to the Philippines. This time he was on a special mission, to build a channel for purchasing explosives. He met Haji Onos in October 2000 in Marawi City. At the second meeting, according to al-Ghozi’s written confession, Haji Onos asked for his assistance to fund a series of bombings in Manila.

"He (Haji Onos) told me they had a program that was part of jihad, but they had no money and so they asked for my help. This program was also part of the revenge for the attacks on Camp Abubakar,” said al-Ghozi in a written confession in Tagalog, as quoted by the Manila Standard daily.

This turned out to be the right thing at the right moment. Al-Ghozi saw the request for assistance as a golden opportunity for the success of the task he was carrying. He immediately contacted Bafana to tell about Haji Onos’s request. Bafanas seemed to agree and sent US$500 to al-Ghozi.

"Al-Ghozi said he gave the money, totaled at 25,000 pesos, to Muklis alias Haji Onos, a MILF member. The money was used to purchase 70 kilograms of explosives in Cebu,” said Peter Ong.

Shortly after, Manila was rocked by five successive bomb blasts. A few hours after the blasts, by using a cellular phone, al-Ghozi contacted Faiz bin Abubakar Bafana and Hambali. Then he flew to Malaysia.

"That’s not true, I can’t even afford to rent my own house, let alone funding something like that,” said al-Ghozi refuting the entire story constructed by the Philippine government.

"How could I possibly be a key figure when I’m not even member of the organization,” added al-Ghozi. To reveal who Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi really is, is not an easy thing to do. At one time he confessed that the explosives were his. At another, he refuted his own confession. The illegal ownership of one ton of explosives could land him behind bars for 12 years. But the accusations of his involvement in the Jamaah Islamiyah, Abubakar Ba’asyir, or the bombings on December 30, 2000, still need to be proven.

Early last July, when I had already left Manila, the Philippine Police arrested Hussain Ramos in Marawi, southern Philippines. Not much information was available on Ramos except that he was 35 years old. Police announced that Ramos was arrested based on al-Ghozi’s information that Ramos had help al-Ghozi find explosives for the December 2000 bombings. In the interrogation, Ramos admitted to having purchased the explosives in November 2000 for al-Ghozi.

I don’t know what answer will al-Ghozi give if he is asked about Hussain Ramos. I could only remember him as a skinny, courteous and clean-skinned Indonesian youth who is being detained at Camp Crame.

(pontoh_2002@yahoo.co.uk)

Translated by: Fajar Rizaldin Hs.
Coen Pontoh is Indonesian journalist. He wrote this story based on his research on Media situation in Philippines and his interview with Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, an Indonesia convicted of possessing firearms in Philippines. Pontoh also traced back to his family background in Indonesia.

He went to cover the story in Philippine in June under SEAPA Fellowship Program. The same story was published in Indonesian-language Pantau Magazine where he works for.

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