But Amrozi was overconfident. Detectives in Bali carefully examined the remains of numerous charred vehicles until they found the wreckage most heavily impregnated with chemicals used to make the bomb: the Mitsubishi L-300. Daubing acid on the abraded surface of the engine block, forensic experts teased out the numbers that were etched in the metal. Once they had the registration of the van, investigators were on a path that led to Amrozi's home village of Tenggulun, about 200 kilometers west of the port city of Surabaya.
But while the alleged bombmaker's arrest was a huge breakthrough in the Bali case, investigators say he was probably a fairly small cog in a much larger machine. "If it was only Amrozi, that would be great," says Brigadier General Edward Aritonang, national police spokesman for the investigation team. "If we don't get the masterminds behind him, more bombs will go off."
Indonesian police say they are currently hunting between six and 10 other suspects for the Bali blasts and expect to make more arrests soon. (Two of Amrozi's younger brothers—he has 13 siblings—are being sought by police on suspicion of involvement in buying the chemicals used in the bomb.) How many militants are swept up in the widening investigation and the vigor with which they are prosecuted will be a signpost of whether the Indonesian authorities, until now regarded as the laggards in Southeast Asia's war on terror, have really changed direction. "I think the danger is that once the Indonesians find a few scapegoats, they could go back to their old ways again pretty quickly," says Zachary Abuza, author of a forthcoming book on al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia.
Indonesian police remain oddly reluctant to directly accuse Jemaah Islamiah of being behind the blast: Abubakar himself has not been charged with any crime related to the attack in Bali, although he is being questioned about a string of bombings during Christmas 2000 that left 18 dead, an alleged plot to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and immigration violations. The police do acknowledge that the attack in the town of Kuta in Bali was organized and executed on a regional scale. According to Aritonang, funding for the car bomb is believed to have originated from Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia in cash and electronic transfers. (Amrozi bought the van in East Java but paid in a combination of Malaysian ringgit and Singaporean dollars.) Police say at least five terrorist cells were involved in planning the attack, with members coming from four Southeast Asian nations: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
Aritonang estimates that much of the logistical planning for the Bali attack took place in the past two months. But according to intelligence experts, the directive that started the entire chain of events was issued at a mid-January meeting in southern Thailand. It was there that Southeast Asia's most wanted man, Riduan Isamuddin, the alleged head of operations for Jemaah Islamiah, harangued a group of key deputies. Hambali, as he is known, was enraged at the thwarting of his plan for a series of huge truck-bomb attacks in Singapore. He ordered a major shift in strategy: instead of concentrating on political, diplomatic and military targets of the U.S. and its allies, Jemaah Islamiah was to turn its attention to "soft" spots—restaurants, bars and nightclubs frequented by foreign tourists, especially Americans. (It will be of little consolation to the families of those who died that the Bali blasts apparently weren't aimed at Australians. Police say Amrozi "wasn't happy" that only six Americans were killed.)
A chilling account of the meeting in Thailand was given by one of those present, Mohammed Mansur (Sammy) Jabarah, a 20-year-old Kuwaiti-born Canadian citizen, who was arrested in Oman in April and is now being interrogated at an undisclosed location in the U.S. According to sources familiar with an FBI report of Jabarah's interrogation, details of his testimony—including the dramatic order by Hambali to target bars and nightclubs—were passed on by U.S. officials to all Southeast Asian governments in August, a full two months before the Bali attack.
It is no coincidence that the critical meeting took place in southern Thailand, a key transshipment point for arms, drugs and women being forced into prostitution. In the past few weeks, southern Thailand has been rocked by a series of unexplained bombings that police and authorities in Bangkok have blamed on criminal disputes. Others see the hand of Jemaah Islamiah, which may be working with local groups seeking autonomy for the largely Muslim region.
"They say that the problems in the south are isolated cases, that the attacks are undertaken by criminals," says Rohan Gunaratna, author of a seminal study of al-Qaeda. "But they are making a fatal mistake. Jemaah Islamiah has infrastructure there, and there is no doubt that Phuket was considered on the list of targets before Bali. The Thais must act now or risk (having their own) Bali."
Indonesia is now in the position of telling Thailand the dangers of overlooking warnings. Alleged Bali bombmaker Amrozi, known as Rozi in his hometown, was the local wild boy, riding a motorcycle and dropping out of high school. After spending about six years in Malaysia, he returned a changed man, dressed in the close-collared gamis and loose pants of an Islamic boarding school student, and started taking unexplained trips out of town. The Surabaya-based Jawa Post reports that Rozi did some boasting a few years ago, telling buddies he had been involved in the Christmas bombings in Jakarta in 2000, which have been blamed on Jemaah Islamiah. At the time, nobody paid any heed to Rozi. They should have.