Jemaah Islamiyah’s bomb plot (2001/2002)

Singapore Infopedia

by Chew, Valerie


In October 2001, some Singapore members of a regional Islamic militant group known as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), meaning “Islamic Community”, began planning a bomb attack on specific targets in Singapore. The bombings were scheduled for execution around either December 2001–January 2002 or April–May 2002, and the targets included the United States and Israeli embassies and the Australian and British high commissions. Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) thwarted the plan when it arrested 13 JI members and two others in December 2001. As a result of investigations following the arrests, ISD detained another 21 people in August 2002, 19 of whom were JI members. The second round of arrests is believed to have severely crippled the JI network in Singapore.1

Jemaah Islamiyah

The ultimate goal of JI was to create a region-wide Daulah Islamiyah, or Islamic State, consisting of Malaysia, Indonesia, southern Philippines, Brunei and Singapore.2

JI was formed in Malaysia by exiled members of a radical Islamic organisation in Indonesia known as Darul Islam (DI), meaning “House of Islam”. Several members of DI had fled from Indonesia to Malaysia in the 1980s to avoid arrest by the government. They regrouped under the leadership of JI founders, Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir.3 Abdullah and Abu Bakar expanded their network of followers through recruitment in Singapore and Malaysia, and in 1993 they formally founded JI.After the fall of Indonesian president Suharto in 1998, some key JI figures returned to Indonesia.5

International links
JI was linked to Al-Qaeda, considered one of the world’s most dangerous international terrorist group.Selected JI members had been sent for military training at Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, and it was an Al-Qaeda operative that initiated the embassy bomb plot in Singapore.In addition, JI had close ties with Kumpulan Militan Malaysia and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – militant groups based in Malaysia and the Philippines respectively.8

Singapore branch
The first leader of JI’s Singapore branch, Haji Ibrahim bin Haji Maidin, was recruited into Abdullah and Abu Bakar’s network in the late 1980s.9 Ibrahim was a superintendent of an apartment building who recruited members through religious classes he conducted at private residences even though he had received no formal religious education. A 2002 estimate by ISD put the size of the Singapore branch at 60 to 80 members.10

Ibrahim was the qoaid wakalah (leader) heading the JI branch until 1999, when Mas Selamat bin Kastari took over the position.11 ISD arrested Ibrahim in 2001 and Mas Selamat in 2006. The latter escaped in February 2008, but was recaptured in Malaysia on 1 April 2009.12

The Singapore JI branch was organised into five functional units known as fiah: operations, security, missionary work, fund-raising and communications.13 Within the operations of fiah, there were several smaller cells, also called fiah. The plan to bomb diplomatic missions in Singapore involved the cell known as Fiah Musa.14

Embassy bomb plot
The plan was to attack six different targets simultaneously in Singapore using six truck bombs, each rigged with 3 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a bomb material.15 The potential targets included the US and Israeli embassies, the Australian and British high commissions, Sembawang Wharf and Changi Naval Base (as these were used by the US military), as well as commercial buildings housing American companies.16

Two foreign terrorists code-named “Sammy” and “Mike” initiated the plot.17 They instructed some Fiah Musa members to conduct surveillance of the various targets, procure the bomb-making materials, and arrange the transport and hiding places. Sammy was tasked with bringing in foreign suicide bombers a day before the planned attack, while the local JI members would leave the country.18

Sammy was later identified as Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, a Canadian-Arab who linked Al-Qaeda to Southeast Asian operatives. Mike was revealed to be Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, a bomb-maker belonging to MILF.19 They both fled Singapore when their local counterparts were arrested in December 2001.20 Mansour was arrested in Oman and Fathur Rohman in the Philippines in 2002.21

ISD later discovered that JI had at least five other plans to attack foreign and local assets in Singapore. Based on the reconnaissance reports, photos and videos that ISD had seized, the Singapore targets identified included Singapore Changi Airport, the Ministry of Education building at North Buona Vista Drive and the Ministry of Defence headquarters in Bukit Gombak.22

Sep 2001: ISD receives information from a Singaporean source that another local, Mohammad Aslam Yar Ali Khan, has links to Al-Qaeda.23 ISD begins monitoring Aslam and his associates.
4 Oct 2001: Aslam leaves Singapore suddenly.24
Mid-Oct 2001: “Sammy” and “Mike” meet with Fiah Musa members Mohamed Ellias s/o Mohamed Khan, Adnan bin Musa, Mohamed Nazir bin Mohmmed Uthman and Fathi Abu Bakar Bafana. Earlier, ISD identified Ellias as a close friend of Aslam, and was already watching him when he began trying to procure ammonium nitrate (Mike instructed him to obtain 17 tonnes).
Oct–Nov 2001: The terrorists carry out reconnaissance of their selected targets.
End Nov 2001: ISD finds out that Aslam has been arrested by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
3 Dec 2001: Aslam’s arrest is covered in the media, prompting ISD to bring forward its operation against his associates in Singapore.25
9–24 Dec 2001: ISD arrests 15 people under the Internal Security Act for terrorism-related activities. The detainees include Ibrahim, Ellias, Adnan, Nazir and Fathi.26 All are Singaporeans except one former citizen.
13 Dec 2001: Riduan Isamuddin (also known as Nurjaman and Hambali), an Indonesian JI leader in charge of the group’s Malaysia and Singapore branches, meets some JI members in Malaysia and urges them to proceed with the bombing plan.
Jan 2002: The 13 JI members arrested by ISD are served with Orders of Detention, while the two non-JI members are released on Restriction Orders. In the Philippines, local authorities arrest Mike. By then, he has ordered 6 tonnes of trinitrotoluene (TNT) and received 1.2 tonnes. The TNT is found after his capture, along with 300 pieces of detonators and 2.4 km of detonator cord – all meant to be smuggled into Singapore for the planned attack.
Feb–Mar 2002: An independent advisory board appointed by the president of Singapore meets to review the cases of the 13 detainees. The board hears their representations, interviews ISD officers and witnesses, and examines all relevant statements and other evidence.
2 Apr 2002: The board submits its findings and recommendations to the president, supporting ISD’s detention of the JI members.
16 Aug 2002: ISD arrests 21 Singaporeans – 19 JI members and 2 MILF members.
Sep 2002: ISD detains 18 of those arrested and releases the others on Restriction Orders.27

Valerie Chew

1. Parliament of Singapore, The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism: White paper (Singapore: Ministry of Home Affairs, 2003), 1, 13, 17. (Call no. RSING q303.625095957 SIN)

2. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 6; Zachary Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers,  2003), 127. (Call no. RSEA 303.6250959 ABU)
3. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 6.  
4. Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 128–29.  
5. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 6; Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 140–41; Greg Barton, Jemaah Islamiyah: Radical Islamism in Indonesia. Singapore: Ridge Books, 2005), 15. (Call no. RSING 303.62509598 BAR)
6. Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 1; Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 3.  
7. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 8–9.  
8. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 8; Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 130–31.
9. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 10, 43; Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 138.
10. Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 138.
11. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 10.
12. Leslie Lopez, “Mas Selamat Captured,” The Straits Times, 8 May 2009, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 11; Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 139.
14. Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 139.
15. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 13, 27; Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 139.
16. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 13; Rohan Gunaratna, ed., Terrorism in the Asia–Pacific: Threat and Response (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2003), 229–30. (Call no. RSING 303.625095 TER); Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 139.
17. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 9; Gunaratna, Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific, 230. (Call no. RSING 303.625095 TER)
18. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 9, 26–27.
19. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 27, 28.  
20. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 17; Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 158.
21. M. Nirmala, “Terrorist Led Plot for Suicide Bombings Here,” Straits Times, 23 July 2002, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 14, 26–31
23. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 26; Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 156.
24. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 26.
25. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 26, 27.
26. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 2, 16, 28; Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, 157.
27. Parliament of Singapore, Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, 1, 2, 19, 27, 28, 43–46, 132.  

Further resources
Brek Batley, The Complexities of Dealing with Radical Islam in Southeast Asia: A Case Study of Jemaah Islamiyah (Canberra: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, 2003). (Call no. RSING 303.6250959 BAT)

Sulastri Osman, Jemaah Islamiyah: Of Kin and Kind (Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2010). (Call no. RSING 303.6250959 SUL)

Maria Ressa, Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda's Newest Centre of Operations in Southeast Asia (New York: Free Press, 2003).  (Call no. RSING 303.6250959 RES)

Bilveer Singh, ASEAN, Australia and the Management of the Jemaah Islamiyah Threat (Canberra: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, 2003). (Call no. RSING 303.6250959 BIL)

The information in this article is valid as at October 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Lim Peng Siang


Lim Peng Siang (b. 1872, Fujian, China–d. 1944, Singapore) was a Chinese merchant who made significant contributions to Singapore’s economic and social developments in the early 1900s. He was a prominent leader of the Chinese community and held key positions in a number of public and private companies. He founded...

First drawdown of national reserves


Singapore’s national reserves, or net assets, are a vital strategic resource for the country, and are therefore strictly protected by the Constitution. Specifically, the Constitution safeguards the portion deemed to be “past reserves” – reserves that were not accumulated by the government during its current term of office – by...

Balaji Sadasivan


Balaji Sadasivan (Dr) (b. 11 July 1955–d. 27 September 2010) was a former senior minister of state for foreign affairs and a member of parliament for the Ang Mo Kio group representation constituency (GRC). As Singapore’s first and only US board-certified neurosurgeon, Balaji gave up medical practice to enter into...

Crash of SilkAir Flight MI 185


SilkAir Flight MI 185, while on its way to Singapore from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, nosedived into Musi River near the city of Palembang in South Sumatra, Indonesia, on 19 December 1997 at about 4.13 pm local time. The plane was almost completely destroyed and all 104 people on...

Queen's Scholarship


The Queen’s Scholarship was an annual education scheme introduced by the colonial government in 1885 to enable promising students in Singapore and Malaya to enrol at a British university. It was the colony’s most prestigious academic prize until it was replaced in 1959 by the Singapore State Scholarships (known today...

Lee Wee Nam


Lee Wee Nam (b. 1881, Theng Hai, Guangdong, China–d. 24 January 1964, Singapore) was an eminent entrepreneur and community leader. Better known as Wee Nam Yia, a title given by the Teochews to a distinguished man of high position, Lee was the chairman and managing director of Sze Hai Tong...

Tan Kah Kee


Tan Kah Kee (b. 21 October 1874, Jimei, Tong’an, Quanzhou, Fujian, China–d. 12 August 1961, Beijing, China) was a prominent Chinese businessman and philanthropist, nicknamed the “Henry Ford of Malaya”. He contributed extensively to the financing of schools and establishment of well-planned clusters of educational institutions, both in Singapore and...

Speak Good English Movement


The Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) was launched on 29 April 2000 by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong to “encourage Singaporeans to speak grammatically correct English that is universally understood”. The movement was introduced as a response to the growing concern that Singlish was becoming the standard among Singaporeans,...

Nanyang University


Nanyang University was the first university outside of China catering to high school graduates from the Chinese stream. After five years of construction, it was officially opened on 30 March 1958, two years after the start of its first classes. The setting up of a tertiary institution for the Chinese...

Teresa Hsu


Teresa Hsu Chih (??) (b. 1898, Swatow, China–d. 7 December 2011, Singapore) was a prominent social worker and the oldest person in Singapore at the time of her death, aged 113 years. The centenarian, who began devoting her life to helping the poor and destitute in the 1930s, remained tireless...