People smugglers disappear amid crackdown
By Ian Timberlake IN JAKARTA
The Straits Times
17 November 2001
They may have gone to ground in the light of recent setbacks but the ringleaders are not giving up
THE deaths of hundreds of asylum seekers last month and an Australian clampdown on refugee boats have driven people smugglers further underground while they seek new ways of getting their human cargo into Australia, refugees say.
The smugglers' agents had left Indonesia because the police were looking for them, according to Mr Mohammad Niaz, 27, an Afghan asylum seeker who has been forced to stay in Kupang since the Australian navy chased his boat from Australian waters in October.
The smugglers were no longer answering their telephones, he said.
Earlier this month, police arrested Abu Quassey, who is alleged to have organised the boat that sank off Java recently with the loss of 350 lives, but the authorities have also identified another 21 alleged crime bosses of Pakistani and Iraqi origin who operate in Indonesia.
Police say one alleged ringleader, Anwar, who uses at least two surnames, operates the Ali Baba Oriental Carpets store in Jakarta's Ambassador Mall.
Anwar could not be reached - for the moment - said one Muhammad Muslihuddin who sat at a desk in the store on Thursday while a Pakistani man waited in the office.
Neither did he respond to a request for comment through Muslihuddin.
Police say another alleged kingpin, who had been staying at Kupang's Sasando hotel, fled shortly before they caught his alleged Indonesian associate, Abdul Azis, in September.
Abdul Azis is on trial at the time of writing.
Many of the smugglers' boat crews are recruited from the region around Kupang because of their local knowledge of the seas near Australia's Ashmore Reef.
Rahiea, 27, a native of Kupang, said he had been hired by a Middle- Eastern man to carry asylum seekers from Makassar to Australia.
'He came to the port looking and wanted to buy. He saw my boat and liked it,' Rahiea said.
The smuggler paid him US$6,000 (S$11,000) for the wooden cargo vessel, he said, but during the voyage in October it ran aground on a small unpopulated island and the asylum seekers aboard fled.
Frustrated at their inability to get past Australian ships patrolling Ashmore Reef and angry at the smugglers who caused the massive loss of life a few weeks ago, some asylum seekers have said they will not try to take a boat to Australia again.
But the smugglers are persistent and one Iraqi refugee in Jakarta said he had heard they were working on new ways of getting people into Australia.
EXIT: The ringleaders check out
An alleged ringleader, Anwar, who uses at least two surnames, operates the Ali Baba Oriental Carpets store in Jakarta's Ambassador Mall. For the moment, he cannot be reached.
Another alleged kingpin fled from Kupang's Sasando hotel, where he had been staying, shortly before they caught his alleged Indonesian associate, Abdul Azis, in September.