Osama Bin Laden’s Second Front
Image Credit: Adam Jones

Osama Bin Laden’s Second Front


The killing of Osama bin Laden in a plush mansion northeast of Islamabad by US special forces should be greeted with the cheers it deserves. His face was one of the most recognizable on Earth, and the idea that one man could have had such a profound impact on foreign policy everywhere would have been incomprehensible just a decade ago.

In Southeast Asia, Bin Laden’s presence was felt and feared as much as anywhere else. His ties with Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should the slaughter that accompanied that terrorist outfit. Together, bin Laden and JI have been rightly pilloried for bastardizing their own faith and using it as an excuse to murder and maim innocent civilians.

JI with Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar at the helm bowed to bin Laden as they preached an Islamic Caliphate for Southeast Asia, which they divided into four groups, or mantikis.

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Mantiki One covered Peninsula Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, extending to Cambodia and southern Vietnam. Mantiki Two represented most of Indonesia, Mantiki Three incorporated the southern Philippines, Borneo,and eastern Indonesia, and Mantiki Four—although never fully developed—was responsible for the Indonesian state of Papua, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.

At an operational level, each mantiki leader would eventually report to Hambali, whose biggest boast was claiming 202 lives on Bali in the 2002 bombing of the island. Hundreds of deaths through terrorist strikes on embassies, hotels, resorts, and churches, have been documented, but the real number is much higher because of the bloody insurgencies in places like Poso and Maluku that JI initiated in the 1990s—with support from al-Qaeda and bin Laden.

In fact, the relationship went back much further.

Sungkar and Bashir fled Indonesia in 1985 after pushing their Islamic agenda and running afoul of the authorities, shifting their operations to Kuala Pilah in Malaysia, where the Islamic congregation was led by a puritanical Wahabi preacher. From here, an initial group of 12 young men was assembled for jihad in Afghanistan and the fight against occupation by the Soviet Union.

It was here that the initial relationship with bin Laden began. Hambali arrived in early 1987 and, along with Aris Sumarsono or Zulkarnaen, served as reinforcements during a battle at Jaji, when bin Laden led an Arab brigade against the Soviets. It was bin Laden’s first time in battle.

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