US investigators crisscrossing the region are now focusing on the terror cells exposed in Singapore and Malaysia this past December. Those cells, officials say, were planning to truck bomb the US Embassy and other targets in Singapore with Al Qaeda assistance.
Hambali left his native Indonesia in the mid 1980s, when he was in his early 20s, intelligence officials say. He allegedly left in disgust because of the government's repressive measures against the proponents of political Islam. And like thousands of others, Hambali was responding to the call to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. When he returned to the region in 1991, he started building his organization.
But Filipino investigators say that their first clue to Hambali's terrorist activities didn't emerge until January 1995, after a small fire broke out in the Dona Josefa apartment building in Manila's Bohemian Malate district. When police arrived to check it out, one of the men who had rented the apartment, a Pakistani named Abdul Murad, bolted.
They chased him down, and entered the apartment. The investigators say the fire had been caused by chemicals Murad and an associate, Kuwaiti Ramzi Yousef were mixing to make pipe bombs. They found maps of the Pope's route, flight schedules, and a laptop with details of a plan to simultaneously blow up 11 United, Delta, and Northwest airplanes. They had nicknamed their plan "Bojinka," which means explosion in Serbo-Croatian.
The discovery led to the eventual arrests of not only Murad, but an Afghan as well, Wali Khan Amin Shah. Mr. Shah fled to Malaysia, and Mr. Yousef fled to Pakistan. But this wasn't Yousef and Murad's first bomb plot.
They were later captured, and convicted in New York for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Shah, too, was was convicted in the US for conspiring to attack US targets.
But there were other connections in that case that weren't pursued. Officials now say that there was sufficient evidence uncovered to link Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network with a then unknown regional network of Islamic radicals that Hambali was secretly helping to build.