WASHINGTON – A senior Indonesian al-Qaida operative wanted in the 2002 Bali bombings has been arrested in Pakistan, a rare high-profile capture in the war on terror that could provide valuable intelligence about the organization and possible future plots.
Umar Patek, a suspected member of the al-Qaida-linked militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, was arrested earlier this year in Pakistan, foreign intelligence sources said Tuesday.
It’s not clear if Pakistan stumbled on Patek or his capture was the result of an 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-Qaida’s top operational leaders as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks looms over the U.S.
Patek, 40, a Javanese Arabic man, is well-known to intelligence agencies across the world. He’s believed to have served as the group’s deputy field commander in the nightclub bombings that left 202 people dead, many of them foreigners.
The U.S. was offering a $1 million reward for the arrest of the slight Patek – who’s known as the “little Arab “ – in the attack that killed seven Americans.
News of his arrest came from two intelligence officials in Indonesia and Philippines. Patek’s exact whereabouts were not immediately known.
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 nightclub bombing, Hambali, spent years in the prison system and is now being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But the CIA’s secret prisons are closed and Obama is trying to empty Guantanamo, not add new inmates.