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Switching Sides: Inside The Enemy Camp

Bob Simon Talks To A Former Terrorist Commander

It's not often you get a chance to talk to someone who was a key player inside a terrorist organization for twenty years, but 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon did just that when he interviewed Nasir Abas, one of the most valuable members of a terrorist group ever to change sides and work for the authorities. Abas is from Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. And he was a top commander in Jemaah Islamiyah, al Qaeda's franchise operation in Southeast Asia.

When Abas was inside the organization, he trained hundreds of young militants to become terrorists and became one of the most wanted men in the region. For 20 years, he worked to achieve an Islamic state throughout Southeast Asia. He embraced the idea of a holy war and spoke the language of jihad.

"I hate the infidels," Abas admits he once believed.

"When you say you hate the infidels … infidel is a word that means something, in your language, in Jemaah Islamiyah or al Qaeda. … But explain to me, what is an infidel?" Simon asks.

"Infidel is a non-Muslim people," Abas replies.

"And you hated non-Muslim people," Simon remarks. "At that time you would have hated me."

"Of course. But now not," Abas says.

Back then, in his days as a terrorist, Abas' view of the world was simple: black and white. But that ended in October 2002, when the island of Bali, known in the west as a paradise and a playground, was shattered by explosions.

Two massive bombs blew that paradise apart, killing 202 people. The victims were mostly young people from Australia, the U.S. and the U.K.

Nasir Abas had nothing to do with the attack itself, but he knew what was behind it because he knew the bombers. He had trained them.

"How do you feel about so many of your friends causing the death of so many innocent people?" Simon asks.

"I feel unhappy, I feel sinful," Abas replies.

He says he feels sinful because he taught the bombers much of what they knew.

Within days of the bombings, police zeroed in on Jemaah Islamiyah. Three of its members, the key planners, were brothers; the mastermind was Abas' brother-in-law. It was really a family affair, and it didn't take long for police to track down Abas himself. When they knocked on his door, he says he attacked the police with the hope that they would kill him.

"It is better to die than to be arrested," Abas explains.

Asked if he wanted to die as a martyr, Abas says, "Correct."

"You must have been very disappointed," Simon remarks.

"Of course, at that time," Abas acknowledges.

The arrests of Abas and his comrades did not stop the attacks. The following year, the Marriott Hotel was hit, then the Australian embassy in Jakarta. Twenty-two people were killed and hundreds were injured. And there was more to come.

Their message had a familiar ring: "Bush and Blair, you liars. You are behind the infidel rulers who hunt down the Mujahideen fighters. You are the enemy we target in our attacks," Noordin Mohammad Top, a key figure in Jemaah Islamiyah, said in a video found in a terrorist safe house.

And the next attack? The bombers weren't finished with Bali. A remarkable document was drawn up, providing the most detailed instructions for a new operation. It was called "the Bali project."