JAKARTA, Indonesia – Anti-terror police arrested 10 suspected Muslim militants and seized a large cache of high-powered bombs, foiling a major attack targeting Westerners in the Indonesian capital, police and media reports said Thursday.
Among those detained was a Singaporean who met several times with Usama bin Laden, a senior police officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The arrests highlighted the lingering terror threat in Indonesia, which has been hit by a string of homicide bombings blamed on the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah since Sept. 11, 2001, including the 2002 attacks on Bali island that left 202 people dead, many of them foreign tourists.
There were no immediate details about the timing or the exact location of the planned strike in Jakarta.
Some of the suspects told police during interrogations that they had initially planned to attack foreign tourists on Sumatra Island, but shifted their target to Jakarta after realizing too many Indonesian lives could have been lost, TVOne quoted anti-terror police as saying.
The militants canceled a planned attack on Kafe Bedudel, a small cafe in the hilly resort town of Bukittinggi in West Sumatra, police spokesman Abubakar Nataprawira told reporters Thursday.
The Indonesian government has won praise for arresting and convicting hundreds of Islamic militants since the Bali attacks, leaving the terror network severely weakened and isolated, with the most recent strike occurring more than 2 1/2 years ago.
Citing improvements in security, the United States lifted a travel warning early this year that had been in place since 2000 and there were no immediate plans to reverse that decision.
"The Indonesian government's response to the threat has improved," said Tristram Perry, the public diplomacy officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. "If anything, these busts validate the lifting of the ban."
At least 22 bombs were seized during raids Wednesday in Palembang, a coastal city on Sumatra. Some were packed with bullets to maximize the impact of the blast, Nataprawira said.
Many were ready to use, he said, adding that dozens of pounds of explosive powder, grenades and several types of electric detonators also were recovered.
The arrests began Saturday in the Sumatran village of Sekayu when police captured 35-year-old Singaporean terror suspect Abu Hazam, who allegedly met with bin Laden on several occasions and received training in Afghanistan, the police said.
"He admitted giving bomb-making training to a number of Palembang residents implicated with the terror network," said Nataprawira.
The reports said the man, also known as Omar, tipped police off to the whereabouts of two other suspects, Abdul Rahman and an unidentified alleged bomb-maker, who were arrested Monday. Six others were netted Wednesday and a seventh before dawn Thursday.
All but one of the men were flown to the capital, their faces covered by black masks as they disembarked from the police aircraft. If found guilty of violating anti-terrorism laws, they face a maximum penalty of death.
Lawyers have agreed to represent the alleged militants and will be present when police begin formal questioning, according to a group of attorneys that specializes in defending terror suspects.
If sufficient evidence is not found after seven days, they must be released.
The suspects allegedly had ties with Southeast Asia's most wanted man, Noordin Top, a Malaysian fugitive who is believed to head the violent breakaway faction of Jemaah Islamiyah that is committed to Al Qaeda style attacks on Western, civilian targets.
He is believed to have been behind all four major attacks in the predominantly Islamic nation since 2002. Together the blasts have killed more than 240 people, including many Muslims, something that has caused divisions in the splinter group.