The deadly 2002 Bali bombings left 202 people dead, many of them foreigners [File: EPA]

A senior Indonesian al-Qaeda operative, wanted in the deadly 2002 Bali bombings, has been arrested in Pakistan, a rare high-profile capture that could provide valuable intelligence about the organisation and possible future plots.

Umar Patek, a suspected member of the al-Qaeda-linked rebel group Jemaah Islamiyah, was taken into custody in Pakistan on March 2, intelligence sources said on Tuesday. 

Details about what he was doing in Pakistan remain obscure, raising questions about whether he was there to plan an attack with al-Qaeda's senior operational leaders as the 10-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001, looms over the United States.

Patek, 40, is believed to have served as the group's deputy field commander in the nightclub bombings that left 202 people dead, many of them foreigners.

He was a close associate of the deceased Dulmatin, the man who allegedly made the bombs for the Bali attacks, including Noordin Top, another alleged mastermind of the bombings.

The US which lost seven citizens in the attack, was offering a $1m reward for Patek's arrest.

'High-profile terrorist'

News of his arrest came from two intelligence officials in Indonesia and Philippines who cited information from US counterparts. Both spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the information.

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The question of what to do with him could become a key indicator of how Barack Obama, the US president, will handle major "terrorist suspects" captured abroad.

However, American officials declined to comment on the case.

Patek is believed to have been among a group of Indonesians, Malaysians and Filipinos who travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 1980s and 1990s for training and fighting.

On their return to Southeast Asia, they formed Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for a string of suicide bombings targeting nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, and a Western embassy in Indonesia. Together more than 260 people have died.

Patek fled to the southern Philippines after the Bali bombings, seeking refuge and training with both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and later, Abu Sayyaf, security experts have said.

But he is believed to have remained heavily engaged in Jemaah Islamiyah operations at home. His arrest in Pakistan is likely to raise questions over how such a high-profile "terrorist" can travel across international borders.

There are also likely to be competing interests among intelligence agencies as each fight for control over Patek.

According to the Jamestown Foundation, a national security policy institute in Washington, Patek was one of the "last senior JI [Jemaah Islamiyah] commanders with significant experience" in the original Afghan al-Qaeda camps and longstanding ties to the network and its donors.

Source: Agencies