How Southeast Asia’s hardline groups saw September 11 attacks

Ali Imron, one of the perpetrators of the deadly bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002, says the first he saw of the attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, was on the front page of his local newspaper.

“Our family didn’t have a television at the time,” Imron told Al Jazeera. The 52-year-old was sentenced to life in prison for his role in planning the Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people, many of them foreign tourists. “But I immediately guessed this was ‘jihad’ from our friends.”

Twenty years ago, Imron was a member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a hardline group founded in 1993 in Indonesia, which still counts more than 1,600 active members according to the Indonesian authorities. JI has historically been linked to al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for September 11 and was headed by Osama bin Laden.

The attacks on 9/11, when al-Qaeda members hijacked four commercial planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, echoed throughout the world.

More than 2,500 people from 90 countries were killed and analysts say the event had a direct impact on the development of violent hardline networks in Southeast Asia, some of which were already working with al-Qaeda.“Jemaah Islamiyah was never an affiliate, much less a franchise, of al-Qaeda. But it was a key al-Qaeda ally in the rise of global jihad. Jemaah Islamiyah provided logistical support for some of the 9/11 hijackers in Malaysia,” he said.

Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, passed through Malaysia en route to the United States. It is thought that they met senior Indonesian JI figures including Encep Nurjaman alias Hambali who is now facing a military commission at Guantanamo Bay on a slew of terrorism-related charges after 18 years in US custody.

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