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Zulkarnaen, whose real name is Aris Sumarsono, is called Daud by fellow militants. U.S. and Indonesian officials stated that Zulkarnaen became operations chief for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) after the arrest of his alleged predecessor Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, in Thailand. Zulkarnaen is described by those who know him as a small man of few words.

Zulkarnaen has been identified as possibly the highest ranking leader of the Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. He is believed to head the elite squad that helped carry out the suicide bombing at Jakarta’s Marriott Hotel that killed 12 people in 2003 and helped to prepare the bombs that killed 202 people in Bali in 2002.

Zulkarnaen is one of al-Qaida’s point men in Southeast Asia and is one of the few people in Indonesia who have direct contact with the al-Qaida terror network. Zulkarnaen earned a degree in biology from an Indonesian university, and in the 1980s he was among the first Indonesian militants to go to Afghanistan for training to become an expert in sabotage. Zulkarnaen now leads a squad of militants called Laskar Khos, or ‘special force,’ whose members were recruited from some 300 Indonesians who trained in Afghanistan and the Philippines.

Zulkarnaen was a protégé of Abdullah Sungkar, founder of JI and the Islamic boarding school al-Mukmin where Zulkarnaen and other senior militants studied. In the mid-1980s, Sungkar sent a small group of Indonesians to Afghanistan to train in a camp led by Mujahidin commander Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. Before Sungkar’s death in 1999, Zulkarnaen was often seen by his mentor’s side, helping to organize conferences and arrange the agenda of the elder radical.

Zulkarnaen is believed to have helped organize fighting in the Maluku islands in the 1990s, and organized a meeting among militants who trained in Afghanistan at different times, enabling them to join forces.