Riduan Isamuddin, who effectively assumed al-Faruq's responsibilities in southeast Asia after the latter's arrest, was himself captured by Thai police and the CIA on Aug. 11 in a tiny apartment an hour north of Bangkok. But Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, appears to have required far less pressure than al-Faruq. Regional intelligence officials have told Time that Hambali began to talk openly about his terror activities shortly after he was taken to an undisclosed location to face u.s. interrogators. One of the key revelations: Hambali told the interrogators that his replacement in the network is Azahari bin Husin, a Malaysian geophysics professor who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and literally wrote the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) manual on bomb building. Indonesian police now want Azahari for his suspected role in constructing the bombs that killed more than 200 people in Bali last October and 12 people at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta last month.
Regional intelligence officials believe, however, that Azahari is inheriting a terror network that has in some ways been compromised. Patiently constructed by Hambali in the 1990s, the organization has long been characterized by its array of largely autonomous terrorist cells—a structure that enabled the top tier of JI leaders to remain at a safe distance from the foot soldiers. That structure, say intelligence officials, has now effectively collapsed because so many of JI's leaders have been arrested in the wake of the Bali bombing. As a result, senior figures who remain at large are forced increasingly to deal directly with cells, raising their odds of capture. Moreover, JI's top operatives must assume that the email addresses they had used to exchange information have now been revealed to interrogators by Hambali.
It is also becoming tougher for JI to find safe havens across the region. In 2002, Hambali held a planning meeting in Bangkok at which he issued the order to bomb "soft targets"; now, with the arrest in Thailand of Hambali and two suspected senior lieutenants, Zubair Mohamed and Li-Li, the perception of the country as a place where terrorists can lie low has been shattered. "They're on the run," says a Western diplomat in Bangkok. "The question is what they're capable of given all the obstacles they now face."
Nobody has a better sense of that potential for destruction than Hambali. Thai intelligence officials, who have representatives sitting in on his interrogation, say he has already confessed that he was planning attacks on Western embassies in Bangkok before his arrest. Under interrogation, they add, he also made it clear he thinks JI will function just fine without him. For one thing, Azahari is by no means the only leading figure still at large. Recent news reports suggested that Zulkifli Marzuki, JI's alleged financial mastermind and key link to al-Qaeda, was nabbed in Cambodia in June. But intelligence officials tell TIME he remains in hiding. "While Zulkifli is still out there, JI has the ability to fund more attacks," says one official.
Indeed, with seasoned operatives like Azahari and Zulkifli roaming the region, the initial euphoria that greeted Hambali's capture has begun to subside. "Hambali's arrest is extremely significant," says the Western diplomat in Bangkok. "But does it mean we can relax now and everything is safe? Not on your life."