It’s been a long time coming. Almost nine years after twin detonations left 202 people dead on the Indonesian island of Bali, the last of the bombers has been arrested.
Omar Patek, also known as Umar, the Little Arab and Mike, was captured by Pakistani authorities in January following an apparent tip-off from US intelligence. He was shot and wounded then, but information surrounding his whereabouts has only just been released.
His arrest should afford at least some closure for the relatives of victims and survivors of a tragic episode that heralded what became known as the second front in the ‘war on terrorism’ in Southeast Asia.
A prominent member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Patek was a deputy field commander at the time of the bombings. JI was subsequently linked to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, the Abu Sayyaf Group and Moro National Islamic Front in the southern Philippines, where Patek sought sanctuary.
An explosives expert, he is also wanted in Australia, the United States and The Philippines. News of his incarceration also raised fears of reprisal attacks against Western interests in Indonesia.
A dozen or so terrorists and senior planners linked to the 2002 slaughter have been arrested, jailed, executed, killed or are awaiting trial.
Hambali, the alleged mastermind of the 2002 attack on the nightclubs in Bali’s premier tourist district of Kuta, was arrested in Thailand in 2003 and later flown to Guantanamo Bay. Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhasyim and Huda bin Abdul Haq were reportedly executed by firing squad in 2008 for carrying out the attacks.
Spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir, who police believe has been a key player in the organizational structure of terror cells as opposed to being the simple preacher he has always claimed to be, is back before the courts.
Patek is expected to be deported to Indonesia, which has developed a ruthless reputation over the way it handles Islamic militants and has enjoyed a successful crackdown on militants over the past 14 months. More than 100 alleged terrorists have been captured or killed since early 2010, when remnants of JI and an assortment of other outfits gathered at a training camp in the mountains of Aceh determined to re-group.
Police were tipped off, and among the dead was Dulmutin, by far the most prominent member of JI wanted in connection with the Bali bombings. He carried a $10 million reward on his head.
Patek, Dulmutin’s favoured cohort, had a bounty of $1 million and had more recently been sighted on the island province of Tawi Tawi in the war torn southern Philippines before surfacing in Pakistan, the biggest concern arising out of his arrest.
Patek had been portrayed as a lonely figure isolated and stuck on an island notorious as a haven for insurgents and militants, where the authorities rarely dare to tread.
Now important questions have arisen over how he travelled to Pakistan—probably via Bangkok—what he was doing there and his affiliations with al-Qaeda. This last connection is particularly interesting considering his previous training in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, when the core of JI was established.