Suspect detained in 2003 based on Cambodian intelligence
The antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks yesterday published a classified US Defense Department file on the Indonesian terrorism detainee known as Hambali, detailing his reported negotiations to buy missiles in Phnom Penh for an alleged plot to attack a Bangkok airport more than eight years ago.
The file was disclosed as part of a cache of “detainee assessment” records from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which the administration of US President Barack Obama has struggled to vacate and close.
The US has publicly celebrated the Cambodian police for providing intelligence that led to the arrest of Hambali, a nom de guerre used by Riduan Isamuddin, in a joint US-Thai operation in August 2003.
Described as the most dangerous and senior regional representative of al-Qaida, Hambali, 47, was in 2004 sentenced in absentia by Phnom Penh Municipal Court to 20 years in jail for a plot to attack the US and British embassies here. He is suspected in the October 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, which killed more than 200 people, among other terrorism allegations stretching back to the 1980s.
Officials in the National Police Commissariat were unavailable for comment yesterday.
According to the file, a Detainee Assessment Brief of October 2008, Hambali told US interrogators of a meeting with an unnamed arms dealer in Cambodia.
Hambali is cited as saying he and fellow Guantanamo detainee Mohd Farik bin Ahmad, a Malaysian, “received a brochure from a broker in Phnom Penh in November 2002 describing a surface-to-air missile made with Russian technology.”
Hambali “also said a system component required to trigger the missile was unavailable in Cambodia but was available” in Burma, according to the document, which is marked “secret,” the second tier of US official classification, and was not to be shown to foreigners.
The two were allegedly plotting an attack on the Israeli Embassy and commercial Israeli passenger flights at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport, according to the file, which does not reveal the source of this information.
Following Hambali’s arrest, Cambodian authorities between 2004 and 2005 acted with US sponsorship to destroy stockpiles of hundreds of Soviet-era Strela-2 and SA-3 Pechora surface to air missiles to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in 2006 that Cambodia had in the past been a point of transit for weapons shipments to Sri Lanka, Burma and the Philippines, but he said the problem had ceased to exist.
The US State Department in August said Cambodian authorities were committed to preventing terrorism but that corruption and underdevelopment could present opportunities for terrorists.
According to the leaked file, the US military in 2008 considered Hambali to be “high risk” and, six years after his arrest, to be of “high value” for intelligence. If released, Hambali “would probably seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities,” the file said.
Relying on his own statements and those other detainees, the file described Hambali as a link between the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front groups in the Philippines and said he had direct access to al-Qaida leaders Osma bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The latter reportedly paid him a $50,000 bonus for the successful Bali bombings.
Hambali has been held without trial in extrajudicial detention for nearly eight years. The US Justice Department said last year it was considering a civilian trial but this has met political opposition.
George W Bush, the US president at the time, revealed in a 2006 speech that Hambali had been one of 14 detainees held at secret detention facilities maintained around the world by the US Central Intelligence Agency before their transfer to Guantanamo that year.
Mr Obama in 2009 ordered the closure of the so-called “black sites,” which Human Rights Watch has alleged were used for “disappearing” detainees and engaging in interrogation techniques that the US government now describes as torture.
The CIA reportedly maintained black sites in Thailand with underground prisons where high-level al-Qaida detainees Ramzi Binalshibh and Abu Zubaida were held. But after their existence became public in 2003, these were closed at the insistence of Thai authorities, according to The Washington Post. Thai authorities have denied they ever existed.
The US Embassy yesterday declined to discuss the contents or authenticity of any leaked documents but said such leaks put lives in danger.
In a statement to The New York Times, the Defense Department on Sunday deplored the leaks but said the detainee assessments might not reflect the current views of the US government.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)