Bangkok - Malaysians Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top, the suspected masterminds behind the first and second Bali bombings, may be the current poster boys of regional terrorism. But the duo may not be the most dangerous of them all. The dubious honour goes to Dulmatin, a leading Jemaah Islamiah (JI) member who is believed to be planning new attacks in the Philippines. The United States has offered a US$10-million reward for the Indonesian's head.
The bounty, announced in Washington on Oct 6 under the State Department's "Reward for Justice" programme, is the second highest on record, below the US$25 million offered for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the Iraq insurgency leader, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.
"Hardly anyone knows Dulmatin, and this reward should boost the public awareness of a terrorist who may be the most dangerous of them all" in the region, a US Embassy official in Thailand told the Bangkok Post.
Dulmatin, 35, and another Indonesian compatriot, Patek, are wanted in connection with the 2002 Bali bombings.
Dulmatin, an electronics specialist who trained as a bomb-maker, is now believed to have largely taken over the duties once assigned to Hambali, head of JI's policy-making body until his flight and subsequent arrest in Ayutthaya, Thailand, in August 2003. It is unclear whether JI's formal structure remains in place following the arrest of Hambali and several other JI leaders.
According to the Post, Dulmatin, a native Javanese, has risen to the top of JI by ability as well as coincidence, and now sets policy for his recruiter and former teacher, Azahari.
Dulmatin allegedly oversaw the construction of the main car bomb used in the 2002 Bali bombing. However, until then, he was not well known even to the top anti-terrorism officials in Indonesia, and was entirely off the radar of foreign experts.
His part in the Bali bombing was known by police within a week of the attack, but Dulmatin has managed to elude the authorities since then.
He is believed to have travelled extensively within Indonesia and the Philippines and has also visited several other countries.
Singapore-based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna said Dulmatin has formed a coalition in the Philippines through which he is working to carry out new attacks. The members of the coalition are a mix of JI and Filipino hardline groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, the newly-formed Raja Sulaiman group and a breakaway of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
According to the Post, Dulmatin's success at infiltrating, exploiting and turning other insurgency movements into extremist gangs allied with the Al-Qaeda is a key reason why the US has jacked up pressure on the Indonesian with a huge reward offer.
Dulmatin is now reported to be hiding in the Philippines' far south, probably on the big island of Mindanao, with Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani.
AFP news agency quoted Dr Sidney Jones, a noted JI expert, as saying: "Mindanao remains the destination of choice for Indonesian jihadists fleeing police pursuit. The good news is it has become harder and harder to get there because of increased border surveillance."
* Bounty turns up heat on JI mystery man (Bangkok Post, Oct 10)
* US offers S$16.9 million for JI bomb-maker (The Straits Times, Oct 8)
* Bali bombing mastermind in RP – military, US embassy (Inquirer News Servic, Oct 7)