A MAN suspected of being Umar Patek, most wanted of the al-Qa’ida-linked fugitives responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, has been arrested in Pakistan.
Indonesian police are helping with the identification and have sent officers with fingerprints and family information to Pakistan.
“We are hopeful it is him,” national police chief of detectives Ito Sumardi said today. “He is our most wanted suspect.”
Patek, a senior member of the al-Qa’ida-linked terror network Jemaah Islamiah, was a senior figure in the October 12, 2002, Bali bombings conspiracy that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
General Sumardi said Pakistani security authorities contacted Indonesian police “a couple of days ago” with news of the suspect’s arrest and requesting help with identification.
“We don’t know exactly about his identity yet; it’s difficult to say because now he’s under arrest by the Pakistan government.”
Patek has been sought for a decade but never arrested by Indonesian and Phlippines police.
He was widely assumed to have spent most time since the bombings with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Sulu Islands of the southern Philippines.
However General Sumardi said today his officers suspected he had been in Indonesia when Dulmatin, another senior member of the Bali bombings conspiracy, was killed in a raid on March 9, 2010. The rare high-profile capture that could provide valuable intelligence about the organisation and possible future plots.
It is not clear if Pakistan stumbled on Patek or his capture was the result of a intelligence tip.
Details about what he was doing in Pakistan also remain murky, raising questions about whether he was there to plan an attack with al-Qa’ida’s top operational leaders as the 10-year anniversary of the September 11, 200l, attacks looms over the US.
Patek, 40, is well-known to intelligence agencies across the world. The US was offering a $US1 million reward for the arrest of the slight Patek – known as the “little Arab” – over the Bali attack.
The question of what to do with him could become a key indicator of how President Barack Obama will handle major terrorist suspects captured abroad. However, American officials declined to comment on the case.
Under former President George W Bush, he likely would have been moved into the CIA’s network of secret prisons. For instance, one of Patek’s accused co-conspirators in the Bali nightclub bombing, Hambali, spent years in the prison system and is now being held in Guantanamo Bay.
But the CIA’s secret prisons are closed and Mr Obama is trying to empty Guantanamo, not add new inmates. Patek’s arrest in Pakistan is likely to raise questions over how such a high-profile terrorist can travel across international borders.
There are also likely to be competing interests among intelligence agencies as each jockeys for control over Patek.