Thailand Rewarded for Capture of Regional Terror Chief
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. has given the government of Thailand $10 million in reward money for the capture of the region's most-wanted terrorist, although the State Department would not say Wednesday where the money had come from.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that the money had been received, and would be shared among agencies and individual officers involved in the arrest last month of Riduan Isamuddin.
The Indonesian radical, better known as Hambali, was captured by Thai police in the central city of Ayutthaya and handed over to the U.S.
His whereabouts are undisclosed, although its thought most likely he is either at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, or Guantanamo Bay.
Hambali was wanted in several Southeast Asian countries and the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia have asked for access to him.
Hambali is believed to be the operations chief of Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and that group's key go-between with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
His arrest was hailed at the time by President Bush, and Thaksin said he had been planning to carry out an attack on a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders, including Bush, in Bangkok next month.
In response to queries early this week, the State Department said in a statement that its Rewards for Justice program had not offered or given any reward in the Hambali case.
After Thaksin's announcement, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated that no funds had come from the department's Rewards for Justice program.
But, he said, "the U.S. government does find ways to support people who have been helpful in activities, who we have been working with, and there are a variety of ways to do that."
"I'm not in a position to talk about any particular payments," he added.
Under the Rewards for Justice program, "a reward may be paid for information leading to the arrest or conviction of any individual who has committed, attempted, or conspired to commit any act of international terrorism against U.S. citizens or property worldwide," the department says.
Rewards previously paid out under the program include some $25 million for information leading to the arrest of suspected Sept. 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and $30 million paid to an Iraqi informant after the deaths last July of Qusay and Uday Hussein.
Rewards of $25 million each are being offered with respect to Saddam Hussein and bin Laden.
Regional security officials say JI was set up to work for the establishment of an Islamic state across Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the southern Philippines and other areas.
The group has been linked to numerous terrorist attacks across the region, including last October's deadly Bali bombings, as well as foiled plots against U.S. and other Western targets.
Hambali himself is thought to have had direct dealings with senior al-Qaeda operatives, including two of the 19 men who later carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., and a suspect in the USS Cole bombing in Oct. 2000 in Yemen.
Early this month, a Jakarta court jailed another Indonesian militant leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, for four years for treasonous acts relating to a plot to overthrow the government.
Bashir is widely believed to be the spiritual leader of JI, although the court said it could not find evidence to that effect.
Australian government officials, among others, expressed disappointment at what they regarded a lenient sentence.
Singapore-based terrorism researcher and al-Qaeda specialist Rohan Gunaratna told CNSNews.com he understood that Hambali was cooperating with his interrogators.
As a result, he said, "there will be fresh evidence to try Bashir at a later date."
The Bangkok Post cited this week cited sources as saying Hambali had revealed names and addresses of contacts across the region.
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