Kathy Gannon & Kimberly Dozier
Islamabad. A CIA tip-off led to the arrest in Pakistan of the main Indonesian suspect in the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, Pakistani security officials said Wednesday, but it was not clear whether the Americans will get access to the militant.
The officials did not say where or when Umar Patek, a deputy commander of al-Qaida’s Southeast Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah, was detained. But the Philippine army, which has also been hunting him, said he was picked up in Pakistan Jan. 25 alongside a Pakistani associate assumed to have been harboring him.
The arrest of Patek, who has a $1 million American price tag on his head, ends a 10-year international manhunt and is a major achievement in the global fight against al-Qaida and its offshoots. If he cooperates, the 40-year-old militant could give valuable intelligence on the current state of the extremist organization and its hardy affiliates in Southeast Asia.
But questions remain over how he was able to travel to Pakistan undetected and what he was doing in the country, which continues to attract foreign militants seeking contact with al-Qaida leaders based there, especially in the northwest close to Afghanistan.
Indonesian police detective chief, Lt. Gen. Ito Sumardi, said officers there suspected Patek traveled on a commercial flight via Bangkok after obtaining a genuine passport using a false name. He said his information indicated that Patek was arrested with other al-Qaida suspects, and that he was not the target of the raid.
News of his arrest initially came from intelligence officials in Indonesia and the Philippines on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Pakistani security officials confirmed the capture. All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
“The CIA tipped us off that he might be traveling here,” one official said, but stressed that it was a “solely Pakistani operation.”
A U.S. official familiar with the operation confirmed the CIA worked with foreign intelligence agencies to capture Patek _ a collaboration that finally paid off after years of pursuit.
“It’s a good thing any time we and our partners work together to take major terrorists off the streets,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the details of what happened remain classified.
Another Pakistani official said Patek was currently being questioned by Pakistani agents, but that he would “eventually” be given to the Indonesians.
“It is our policy to send them back to their country of origin,” he said.
Sumardi, the Indonesian police chief, said his country would request custody of Patek.
“We strongly hope that the Pakistani authorities are willing to give us access to him, and we would welcome his handing over to his country of origin,” he said. “He was involved in many terror attacks in Indonesia and we are ready to prosecute him according to the law.”
The CIA would presumably like to have access to Patek, but the Pakistani officer said this would happen only with the written consent of Indonesia. Indonesian officials were not available to answer that question, but the country’s anti-terror authorities have worked closely with the United States in the past.
Relations between the CIA and Pakistan’s main Inter-Services Intelligence agency have been tense in recent months, especially after the shooting by CIA contractor Raymond Allen Davis of two Pakistanis in Lahore in January. But it is unclear whether this will be a factor in the situation surrounding Patek’s arrest.
One Pakistani official said the two agencies’ relationship since the Davis affair had been “limited to information sharing” and that joint operations had stopped for now.
“The two organizations need to reset their relations and re-establish trust,” he said.
Southeast Asia security officials have long worried about the linkages between militants there and in Pakistan.
In 2003, Pakistan arrested a group of 12 Southeast Asian militant suspects, mostly Indonesians, in Karachi and handed them over to Indonesia, where one of them was later convicted of transferring money to fund attacks in Indonesia.
Patek spent time in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s and with around 300 other Southeast Asian militants later formed the nucleus of Jemaah Islamiyah.
Jemaah Islamiyah members, including Patek, are believed to have carried out the Bali nightclub bombings that left 202 people dead, including 88 Australians and seven Americans. He is also suspected in at least two other suicide bombings in Jakarta in 2003 and 2004.
With the help of Australian and American funding, intelligence and expertise, Indonesia has rounded up or killed many top Jemaah Islamiyah militants since 2002.
One of Patek’s accused accomplices in the nightclub bombing, Hambali, was arrested in Thailand in 2003 and sent to the United States, where he is now being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
His detention in the U.S. was a source of tension for a long time between Washington and Jakarta, which wanted him tried in Indonesia. The country has arrested, tried and convicted hundreds of militants in a widely praised crackdown since 2001.
But the organization has proved to be resilient, and its members remain keen to maintain and develop contacts with Middle Eastern and Pakistani militants. Patek’s arrest could be a major blow since he was one of the most senior members of the group still on the run.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd welcomed the arrest.
“It is our view that the Patek arrest is potentially a major step forward in the fight against terrorism,” he said on Bali, where he is attending a regional meeting.