Noordin received letters from jailed Bali bombers, police say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 October, 2009, 12:00am

Indonesian police this week staged a press conference in Jakarta to hail the intelligence haul from the hideout where terror mastermind Noordin Mohamed Top died in a hail of gunfire last month.

But what they did not announce was just as revealing, although for different reasons - Noordin had with him a bundle of letters from the Bali bombers, apparently smuggled out of prison to their leader while they waited on death row. A counterterrorism officer has told the South China Morning Post the letters urged Noordin to continue with his jihad to establish Islamic rule in the country.

The discovery of the letters raises questions over the effectiveness of the country's maximum-security prison-island, Nusakambangan, known as the Alcatraz of Indonesia.

Nusakambangan, located in Central Java, has housed the country's most dangerous prisoners, including the infamous Bali bombers Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Mukhlas as they awaited execution.

'We found a pile of letters sent from Nusakambangan by the Bali bombers to Noordin,' the Indonesian counterterrorism officer told the Post.

More than 10 letters were sent to Noordin, each consisting of one sheet of paper written on both sides, said the officer. 'We are investigating how the letters were smuggled out of prison and how they managed to reach Noordin.'

The letters do not represent the first major security blunder relating to the Bali bombers' incarceration.

In 2005, police discovered Imam Samudra was still recruiting would-be terrorists over the internet via a laptop that was smuggled into his prison cell in Kerobokan, Bali. He was later transferred to Nusakambangan.

The three convicts were sentenced to death in 2003 for their roles in the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people, including 11 Hong Kong residents - an attack for which Noordin was also blamed. They were executed in November last year.

One of the letters to Noordin was apparently written shortly before their execution. 'One of the last letters said 'avenge our blood and continue with our struggle',' the officer said.

Bambang Winahyo, head of the Central Java penitentiary centre that oversees Nusakambangan, said he had not received word of the letters. However, he acknowledged it could have been easy for the Bali bombers to get letters sent to Noordin.

'Amrozi and friends had many visits every month, from their families and their lawyers,' Winahyo said. 'Every visit would comprise about 40 people. I restricted the number of visitors to 10 persons for each prisoner. You still ended up getting something like 30 visitors for the trio every month,' Winahyo said.

'It is so easy for a visitor to smuggle a letter out, as it is small. They could have easily [hidden] the letters in their pockets.'

Amrozi also received many books from his visitors and left behind a cell full of them. After his execution, prison authorities returned the books to his family.

'Letters could also have been slipped between the pages of those books to be smuggled out. We could not go through every page of those books,' Winahyo said.

Police investigating the aftermath of the raid in which Noordin died also found he was an avid writer. He left a thick stack of letters to several people, including his wives. 'We found letters which he wrote to his second wife, Munfiatun, dated 2004. In the letter, he wrote about his journey as a mujahideen,' the officer said.

Noordin also kept meticulous notes of his spending, taking account of everything from his expenditure on explosives to the bill for a simple meal. 'He would note down explosive materials as 'sweet cakes',' the officer said. 'Every cent he took out, he would list the amount, what it was spent on and the date.'