As police closed in, Samudra made his second mistake. Authorities nabbed two of his bodyguards, who revealed that their boss planned to board a bus that was to cross by ferry boat from Java's Sundra Strait to the town of Pekanbaru on the island of Sumatra. Samudra's name wasn't on the passenger list at the Kurnia bus company's office for the Nov. 21, 5:30 p.m. departure. But another name immediately jumped out at the police: Arema. It was a nickname commonly used by those from the East Java town of Malang.
The man calling himself Arema, clad in a black shirt, jeans and a black baseball cap, sat quietly in window seat No. 25, waiting for the bus to roll onto the ferry. After visually confirming Samudra's identity with one of his bodyguards, two policemen climbed through the back door of the bus as it was about to leave, tapped Samudra gently on the shoulder and told him to come with them. The terrorist chief, wanted for years even before the Bali atrocity for his involvement in a series of bombings across Indonesia over Christmas 2000 which left 19 dead and scores wounded, made no protest, leaving so quietly that most of the other passengers at the front of the bus didn't notice the bust.
The arrest was a spectacular coup for Indonesia's much-maligned police force, particularly after they announced that Samudra had not only confessed to planning and directing the Bali bomb blasts but had also admitted to a string of other crimes, including several unsolved robberies and mysterious bombings. Indonesian authorities said the continuing roundup of Bali bombers had netted a total of seven suspects by Nov. 24, and added that they were actively seeking up to five more. They also said that Samudra had made a startling revelation: the smaller of the two bombs that exploded that night in Kuta was, as he put it, a "martyr bomb." If proved true, the suicide bombing by a man known only as Iqbal would be an alarming first for Southeast Asia.
Heading the still-secret list of those "top guns" is a Yemeni national named Syafullah, a senior al-Qaeda operative whose trail of terror goes back to involvement in the 1996 bombings of a U.S. military barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 servicemen. Syafullah, who intelligence sources say entered Indonesia on a forged U.S. passport, would have provided the critical bombmaking and operational experience needed for a relatively sophisticated operation like the one in Bali, which many experts argue was beyond the capacity of Jemaah Islamiah (JI). His presence would also provide the direct link to al-Qaeda that investigators have long suspected but been unable to prove.
Also wanted are two other men with ruthless terrorist pedigrees: a Malaysian named Zubair, who fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, and is believed to be responsible for surveillance and mapping of the Bali attack; and Syawal, an Indonesian man who was an instructor at a camp, located near Poso on the island of Sulawesi, the scene of Christian and Muslim fighting that has cost hundreds of lives in recent years, that intelligence officials believe was used by al-Qaeda for training recruits. Syawal, intelligence sources add, is also distinguished by his marriage to the daughter of Abdullah Sungkar, the Indonesian man who fled with radical cleric Abubakar Ba'asyir to Malaysia in 1985. Sungkar and Abubakar both es-caped jail sentences imposed by the Suharto regime and lived in exile in Malaysia for more than a decade. Sungkar died of natural causes in 1999, while Abubakar returned to Indonesia one year earlier, after Suharto's fall. He is now in detention on suspicion of involvement in the same Christmas 2000 bomb blasts to which Samudra confessed responsibility. Last week police extended Abubakar's detention till the end of the year. (Abubakar has consistently denied any terrorist connections and maintains that JI is a spiritual movement that has been demonized by U.S. intelligence officials seeking to blacken the name of Islam in Southeast Asia.)
With so many dangerous minds still at large, Indonesian authorities can ill afford even a self-congratulatory pause in their war on terror. One senior government official concedes that while Samudra's arrest and the detention of Abubakar are big steps forward, the true masterminds of the Bali attack are the real prize. Not only are many senior JI commanders still active, the official adds, but the organization is highly adaptable. "JI operations have been disrupted, but it is a very amorphous body which can quickly execute leadership changes in the event of problems."
An intriguing insight into the compartmentalized nature of the terrorists' command structure—and the possible decisive role of the three top suspects—was given by Amrozi, the first member of the bombing team to be apprehended. According to a source familiar with a lengthy Nov. 15 interrogation, Amrozi disclosed that the target of the group's main bomb was changed at the last moment by the intervention of three mysterious strangers, in all likelihood the same three "top guns" now heading the police's secret most wanted list. (After testifying, the 39-year-old mechanic signed the 70-plus-page transcript with a flourish, bizarrely adding a grinning smiley face next to his name.) Originally, Amrozi told his captors, the group had planned to target only the U.S. consulate in Denpasar, Bali's capital. The newcomers were "as smart as Samudra," Amrozi emphasized, leading the police to believe they were of the same or higher rank. Amrozi was surprised to discover that Samudra wasn't the one calling the shots. Before these men arrived, Amrozi said in the interrogation, Samudra was talking on his cell phone with another party about changes to the plan. Amrozi asked: "What other party? You never told me before." That intervention by the mysterious strangers, Amrozi stressed, led the group to leave only a token bomb at the empty consulate and concentrate their efforts on the Kuta bars, with devastating consequences. Such incidents grimly underline, the government official says, that "there are still a lot of very dangerous men out there and they are still planning further terrorist acts."
The most likely target for those future attacks is now unquestionably Jakarta's much diminished expatriate community, which has been alarmed by a series of increasingly shrill warnings from Western embassies about the impending threat. An ever-growing security clampdown now sees most hotels, and some shopping malls, guarded by groups of machine-gun-toting soldiers and officials who frisk pedestrians and subject entering vehicles to detailed examinations that include a sweep of the chassis with flashlight and mirror-equipped poles. Some of the city's most popular expat watering holes—such as the usually packed BATS at the Shangri-La hotel—have simply shut down until further notice.
The latest threat is against the children of expatriates. Since Nov. 15, three international schools in Jakarta have closed due to security alerts. The Jakarta International School has added a three-meter-high "blast wall," a "boom gate" in front of the school and protective security film over all exterior windows. It is a depressing truth, says Ken Conboy, country manager for security-consulting firm Control Risks Group, that even if such measures succeed in deterring an attack at the school, there is no shortage of alternative targets. "Terrorists go for the lowest common denominator," he says. "If the schools look harder to crack, they'll go for other soft targets like churches, where the level of security is mostly lip service."
That's an alarming thought, especially given that the chubby, all-too-ordinary-looking Samudra casually revealed during his interrogation that he had been plotting fresh attacks. Without elaborating, General I Made Mangku Pastika, head of the Bali investigation, said at a press conference that "there are indications Samudra had a new plan." With each such reminder of the remorseless commitment of terrorists like Imam Samudra, we can only wonder not whether the next attack in Indonesia will come, but where and how soon.