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Behind the Scenes: Chilled by words of hatred

Story Highlights

• Accused Indonesian terror leader gives interview to CNN
• Tells correspondent he could be target just because he is British
• Suspect smiles often even while discussing mass killings
By Dan Rivers
CNN
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- I thought it was a joke when I first got the e-mail. CNN's Jakarta producer contacted me to say that the recently captured Indonesian terrorist suspect, Abu Dujana, was willing to do an interview. I felt like saying "Yes, well let's see if Osama's available too, and we can see if we can get them on Larry King as a double act."

But she insisted the police had sanctioned a face-to-face meeting with Jemaah Islamiyah's military commander, at a secret location somewhere in Java. We scrambled to the airport and less than 24 hours later I found myself nervously pacing up and down an empty, echoing corridor of a police building, waiting for a convoy carrying the most dangerous terrorist in Southeast Asia.

He appeared in silhouette initially. He was dressed in white and flanked by armed plainclothes police officers. As he approached I could see a slightly built, wiry man, who looked younger than the 37 years old police said he was.

He smiled as the officers took off his handcuffs. I was alarmed at the apparently lax security. The door was a few feet away and there was no one guarding it. I thought for a moment that he might make a run for it.

But he didn't. He seemed resigned now to his fate. He is facing the death penalty if convicted on terrorism charges.

The police think Abu Dujana was involved in some way with just about every major terrorist attack in Indonesia in the last five years, rising through the ranks of Jemaah Islamiyah to become the pre-eminent military commander.

He is a veteran of Afghan terrorist training camps and even boasts he once met Osama Bin Laden.

Our interview was conducted in a conference room. As the camera crew made final adjustments to the shot, I tried to make small talk with the alleged mass murderer sitting in front of me.

It was difficult. What do you chat about with someone who has dedicated their life to an organization that believes in indiscriminate mass murder? The weather? The price of rice? The latest football results?

In the end, I explained that he could talk in Indonesian, but my questions would be in English, that he should look at me, not the translator and that he should try to stay still in his chair.

Careful, yet nihilistic

He seemed affable, but had piercing brown eyes. He exuded a calm disdain for me. A gentle, inner mocking resonated from his face, which frequently cracked into a broad smile. He spoke softly and with obvious intelligence.

He was careful not to implicate himself directly in any attacks, claiming they were carried out by a splinter cell, which had become alienated from Jemaah Islamiyah.

But on broader philosophical questions, he was unremittingly nihilistic. He believes in the utter supremacy of Sharia law, and that hard-line Islamic rules should be imposed on everyone, regardless of the faith.

Abu Dujana sees Americans as legitimate targets, because of the United States intervention in Iraq and backing of Israel. He laughed as he said I, too, was a legitimate target simply for being British. He seemed unconcerned about his own life or those of his wife and children, saying God would make the only judgment that mattered.

After 40 minutes, I was getting increasingly irritated by his fascistic nonsense and he too was also growing weary with reciting dogmatic answers. He said he had to pray, and the interview ended.

He was led away to a small office to face Mecca. I waited in the corridor outside. When his conversation with God over, he was handcuffed and gently escorted to a waiting car, leaving me chilled by his words of hatred -- words that were often said with a smile.


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CNN's Dan Rivers was taken to meet Abu Dujana in secret.

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