JAKARTA, Indonesia – A Singaporean who met several times with Usama bin Laden was among nine terror suspects arrested Wednesday in western Indonesia, police and a local TV station said. A cache of powerful bombs packed with bullets was also seized in the raid.
The men had been planning an attack on Western tourists, but decided to postpone their strike after realizing their intended target on Sumatra Island could result in too many Indonesian casualties, TVOne quoted anti-terror police as saying.
They were considering an attack in the capital, Jakarta, instead.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has been hit by a string of deadly bombings blamed on the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah in recent years, which have together killed more than 240 people.
The last attack occurred on Bali island nearly three years ago and the United States — citing improvements in security — recently lifted a travel warning that had been imposed on the country.
Police told TVOne the 20 bombs seized Wednesday in Palembang, a coastal city on Sumatra, were packed with bullets, probably to maximize the impact of the blast. In the past, terrorists have been known to use ball-bearings.
Only the nationality of one suspect — the Singaporean — was identified. He was said to have met with bin Laden on several occasions, but TVOne provided no further details.
The other men allegedly had ties with Southeast Asia's most wanted terror suspect, Noordin Top, who is believed to head a breakaway faction of Jemaah Islamiyah that is committed to Al Qaeda style attacks on Western, civilian targets. Recently arrested Muslim militants have said he may have fled the country.
Police documents obtained by The Associated Press indicated that JI has maintained the ability and desire to forge international links despite a crackdown that has resulted in the arrest and convictions of hundreds of terrorists.
The nine suspects detained Wednesday will be transferred to Jakarta within 24 hours.
Police spokesman Abubakar Nataprawira confirmed the arrests and the recovery of explosives, but provided few other details, saying the investigation was ongoing.
Another police source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, confirmed however that nine were detained and eight bombs seized.