Intelligence report: Bin Laden sought Indonesian base
Counterterrorism experts say he also checked out Yemen
MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Intelligence officials tell CNN that Osama bin Laden wanted to move the base of operations for his al Qaeda terrorist network from Afghanistan to Southeast Asia in 2000.
The plan, according to these officials' intelligence report, was to move the base to Aceh in Indonesia, where members of the Free Aceh movement (or GAM) were working with al Qaeda.
Aceh is a remote Muslim province in which rebels have fought for a separate Islamic state for decades. Bin Laden's No. 2, Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri visited Aceh with al Qaeda's former military chief, Mohammed Atef, in June 2000.
"Both of them were impressed by the lack of security, the support and extent of Muslim population," reads the intelligence report made available to CNN. "This visit was part of a wider strategy of shifting the base of Osama bin Laden's terrorist operations from the subcontinent to Southeast Asia."
Al-Zawahiri and Atef were accompanied by two men now in custody: Kuwaiti Omar al-Faruq and Indonesian Agus Dwikarna. Asian intelligence sources tell CNN that al-Faruq was al Qaeda's senior representative in Southeast Asia.
United States sources confirm that al-Faruq was arrested by Indonesian authorities on June 5 and now is at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
U.S. and Asian sources say al-Faruq's name and telephone number were found in a phonebook recovered in Pakistan during the arrest of former al Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubayda.
That same phone number, according to Philippine intelligence sources, was found in the mobile phone of Dwikarna, who guided the al Qaeda members during their visit to Aceh.
Dwikarna was arrested in the Philippines in March.
"We have found out for sure that Agus Dwikarna has direct links to al Qaeda," Andrea Domingo, the Philippines Commissioner of Immigration tells CNN.
"The most important thing is to view this as an international organization that has a lot of resources up to now and that is still alive and operating at very different levels."
An Indonesian police document obtained by CNN says Dwikarna was working with militants who plotted to assassinate Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri -- a plan that was later aborted.
Counterterrorist experts say bin Laden was looking for a place to which to move his operations as long as five years ago, and that in 1997 he sent a delegation to Yemen. As in Indonesia, nothing came of that visit.
But for investigators, details of the Aceh visit might help unravel the terrorist network left behind.
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