Jemaah Islamiyah’s bomb plot against diplomatic missions in Singapore, 2001/2002
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In October 2001, some Singapore members of a regional Islamic militant group known as Jemaah Islamiyah or JI - meaning "Islamic Community" - began planning a bomb attack on specific targets in Singapore. The bombings were scheduled for execution in December 2001/January 2002 or April/May 2002, and the targets included the United States (US) and Israeli embassies and the Australian and British high commissions. However, Singapore's Internal Security Department (ISD) thwarted the plan when it arrested 13 JI members and 2 others in December 2001. As a result of investigations following these arrests, ISD arrested another 21 people in August 2002, 19 of whom were JI members. This second round of arrests is believed to have severely crippled the JI network in Singapore.
The ultimate goal of JI is to create a region-wide Daulah Islamiyah or "Islamic State" made up of Malaysia, Indonesia, southern Philippines, Brunei and Singapore.
JI was formed in Malaysia by exiled members of a radical Islamic organisation in Indonesia known as Darul Islam or DI, meaning "House of Islam". Several members of DI had fled from Indonesia to Malaysia in the 1980s to avoid arrest by the government. They regrouped under the leadership of JI founders Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir. Sungkar and Bashir expanded their network of followers through recruitment in Singapore and Malaysia, and in 1993 they formally founded JI. After the fall of Indonesian president Suharto in 1998, some key JI figures returned to Indonesia.
JI has links to Al-Qaeda, considered the world's most dangerous international terrorist group. Selected JI members have been sent for military training at Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan since the 1990s, and it was an Al-Qaeda operative that initiated the embassy bomb plot in Singapore. In addition, JI has close ties with Kumpulan Militan Malaysia and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), militant groups based in Malaysia and the Philippines, respectively.
The first leader of JI's Singapore branch, Haji Ibrahim bin Haji Maidin, was recruited into Sungkar and Bashir's network in the late 1980s. Ibrahim Maidin was a religious teacher and used his religious classes as a recruitment ground. A 2002 estimate by ISD put the size of the Singapore branch at 60 to 80 members.
The qoaid wakalah or "leader" heads the branch. Ibrahim Maidin was the qoaid wakalah until 1999, when Mas Selamat bin Kastari took over the position. ISD arrested Ibrahim Maidin in 2001 and Mas Selamat in 2006. Mas Selamat escaped in February 2008 but was captured in Malaysia on 1 April 2009.
The branch is organised into five functional units known as fiah: operations, security, missionary work, fund-raising and communications. Within the operations fiah, there are several smaller cells, also called fiah. The plan to bomb diplomatic missions in Singapore involved the cell known as Fiah Musa.
The Embassy Bomb Plot
The plan was to attack six different targets simultaneously in Singapore using six truck bombs, each rigged with three tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a bomb material. The potential targets included the US and Israeli embassies, the Australian and British high commissions, Sembawang Wharf and Changi Naval Base (as these were used by the US military), as well as commercial buildings housing American companies.
The plan was initiated by two foreign terrorists code-named "Sammy" and "Mike". They instructed some Fiah Musa members to conduct surveillance of the various targets, procure the bomb-making materials and arrange the transport and hiding places. "Sammy" would bring in foreign suicide bombers a day before the planned attack while the local JI members would leave the country.
"Sammy" was later identified as Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, a Canadian-Arab who linked Al-Qaeda to Southeast Asian operatives. "Mike" was identified as Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, a bomb-maker belonging to MILF. They left Singapore when their local counterparts were arrested in December 2001, but both have since been caught elsewhere.
ISD later discovered that JI had at least five other plans to attack foreign and local assets in Singapore. Based on the reconnaissance reports, photos and videos that ISD had seized, the Singapore targets identified included Changi Airport, the Ministry of Education building at North Buona Vista Drive and the Ministry of Defence headquarters at Bukit Gombak.
Sep 2001 : ISD received information from a Singaporean source that another Singaporean called Mohammad Aslam Yar Ali Khan had links to Al-Qaeda. ISD then began monitoring Aslam and his associates.
4 Oct 2001 : Aslam left Singapore suddenly.
Mid Oct 2001 : "Sammy" and "Mike" met with Fiah Musa members Mohamed Ellias s/o Mohamed Khan, Adnan bin Musa, Mohamed Nazir bin Mohmmed Uthman and Fathi Abu Bakar Bafana. ISD had earlier identified Ellias as a close friend of Aslam and was already watching him when he began trying to procure ammonium nitrate ("Mike" had instructed him to obtain 17 tonnes).
Oct - Nov 2001 : The terrorists carried out reconnaissance of their selected targets.
End Nov 2001 : ISD found out that Aslam had been arrested by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
3 Dec 2001 : Aslam's arrest was covered in the media, prompting ISD to bring forward its operation against his associates in Singapore.
9 - 24 Dec 2001 : ISD arrested 15 people under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism-related activities, including Ibrahim Maidin, Ellias, Adnan, Nazir and Fathi. All were Singaporeans except one who was a former citizen.
13 Dec 2001 : Riduan Isamuddin @ Nurjaman @ Hambali, an Indonesian JI leader in charge of the group's Malaysia and Singapore branches, met some JI members in Malaysia and urged them to proceed with the bombing plan.
Jan 2002 : The 13 JI members arrested by ISD were served with Orders of Detention while the two non-JI members were released on Restriction Orders. In the Philippines, local authorities arrested "Mike". By then, he had managed to order six tonnes of TNT and had already taken delivery of 1.2 tonnes. The TNT was found after his capture, along with 300 pieces of detonators and 2.4km of detonator cord - all meant to be smuggled into Singapore for the planned attack.
Feb - Mar 2002 : An independent advisory board appointed by the President met to review the cases of the 13 detainees. It heard their representations, interviewed ISD officers and witnesses, and examined all relevant statements and other evidence.
2 Apr 2002 : The board submitted its findings and recommendation to the President, supporting ISD's detention of the JI members.
16 Aug 2002 : ISD arrested 21 Singaporeans - 19 were JI members, 2 were MILF members.
Sep 2002 : ISD detained 18 of those arrested and released the others on Restriction Orders.
Abuza, Z. (2003). Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of terror. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
(Call no.: RSEA 303.6250959 ABU)
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Ministry of Home Affairs. (2002, March 1). Government statement on JI case. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=MzA2-tYHriqVs%2fQc%3d
Ministry of Home Affairs. (2002, September 16). Singapore government statement on further arrests under the Internal Security Act. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=NDY5-0FN2Gb0i2%2fI%3d
Ministry of Home Affairs. (2002, September 19). Singapore government press statement on further arrests under the Internal Security Act. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=NDg1-VU76ABsNYwE%3d
Ministry of Home Affairs. (2002, September 24). MediaCorps News interview with Minister Wong Kan Seng on the latest arrests [Press release]. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=NDg5-7CHQfx716AE%3d
Ministry of Home Affairs. (2006, February 6). Response to queries on Mas Selamat [Press release]. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=Mzgy-JbcNaZdp3yg%3d
Ministry of Home Affairs. (2008, February 27). Ministry of Home Affairs news release on Mas Selamat bin Kastari. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=MTE2NQ%3d%3d-%2bZANEx6LKCM%3d
Parliament of Singapore. (2003). The Jemaah Islamiyah arrests and the threat of terrorism: White paper. Singapore: Ministry of Home Affairs.
(Call no.: RSING 303.625095957 SIN)
Barton, G. (2005). Jemaah Islamiyah: Radical Islamism in Indonesia. Singapore: Ridge Books.
(Call no.: RSING 303.62509598 BAR)
Gunaratna, R. (Ed.). (2003). Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific: Threat and response. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: RSING 303.625095 TER)
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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