Updated at 8:10 a.m. ET on 2016-08-19
An Indonesian linked to al-Qaeda masterminds Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad said he had no ill will towards the United States when he appeared Thursday before a hearing at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The appearance by Encep Nurjaman, also known as Hambali, before a review board hearing to determine if he should be released from custody marked the first time he was seen in public since being locked up at Guantanamo in September 2006, the Associated Press reported.
A U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) profile of Hambali described him as an operational mastermind for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian militant group linked with al-Qaeda.
Hambali helped plan the Bali bombings that killed 202 people in 2002 and a series of Christmas Eve bombings at 30 churches across Indonesia two years earlier, the profile said.
After his arrest in Thailand in 2003, Hambali was eventually taken to the military prison at Guantanamo, where suspected al-Qaeda operatives and others who were linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have been incarcerated.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged planner of the 9/11 attacks, is also imprisoned at Guantanamo. Bin Laden, the former head of al-Qaeda, which was behind the attacks on New York and Washington, was killed in a raid by U.S. Special Forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.
Hambali did not speak but a U.S. military officer representing him read an opening statement on his behalf, calling the 52-year-old Indonesian “respectful and energetic,” according to AP’s account of the hearing.
“He always smiles and never hesitates to answer any questions we have,” according to a copy of the statement obtained by BenarNews.
While at Guantanamo Hamabali has learned English, taught himself Arabic and has taught fellow detainees. “He went so far as to have homework and tests for them,” it said.
“Hambali has stated he has no ill will towards the U.S. He believes America has diversity and sharing of power which is much better than a dictatorship. He states he wants nothing more than to move on with his life and be peaceful,” the statement went on to say.
Hambali wore horn-rimmed glasses and a mostly gray beard, and was expressionless during the unclassified portion of the Periodic Review Board hearing, according to AP.
A ‘steadfast’ extremist: U.S.
The U.S. government also read out a statement at Thursday’s hearing. It called Hambali an ongoing security threat, by describing him as being “steadfast in his support for extremist causes and his hatred for the U.S.,” AP reported.
“He most likely would look for ways to reconnect with his Indonesian and Malaysian cohorts or attract a new set of followers,” the U.S. statement added, noting that he “has been heard promoting violent jihad while leading daily prayers and lectures” at the prison on Guantanamo, by AP’s account.
Hambali served as a main liaison between JI and al-Qaeda from 2000 until his capture in 2003, according to the DOD profile.
“Before returning to Southeast Asia in December 2001, Hambali discussed operations with senior al-Qaeda leaders regarding post Sept. 11 attacks against U.S. interests,” the report states.
Hambali, who was born in Cianjur, West Java, left Indonesia for Malaysia in the 1980s where he met JI cofounders Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir, and was exposed to radical Islamic teachings, the DOD said.
The review panel issued no decision on Hambali’s status, the AP reported. He is one of 61 detainees housed at the prison in Cuba.
If he were freed, Hambali would not be allowed to return to Indonesia, according to a report in Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper.
“They will not deport Hambali to Indonesia. Praise to God. Don’t add more problems to this country,” Luhut Pandjaitan, who was Indonesia’s top security minister at the time, told reporters in March.
An earlier version incorrectly reported that Hambali was arrested in Bangkok.