Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep

Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, also known as Lillie, is a Malaysian member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and operative of al-Qaeda. He is one of 17 high-value detainees at U.S. Naval Base Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Bin Lep served as a lieutenant to JI operations chief Riduan Isamuddin, a.k.a. Hambali, and had pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11. Bin Lep allegedly aided the financing of terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia and trained to be a suicide operative in a foiled plot masterminded by al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM).“Notification of Swearing of Charges in United States v. Encep Nurjaman,” U.S. Department of Defense, April 5, 2019, https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/751-2019HambaliCharges/e58e1aaf3f8134ef2fa8/optimized/full.pdf.

Born in Muar, Malaysia in 1976, by his own account, Bin Lep began reading books on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at age 18 and became interested in jihad and martyrdom. He graduated from secondary school in 1995, then attended Nuedzen Technical School near his home. In 1997, Bin Lep earned a diploma in architecture and went on to work for architecture firms in Kuala Lumpur for over a year. He then returned to his home in Muar and joined the Malaysian military, where he received firearms training and served for one-and-a-half years.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11.

In early 2000, while still in the military, Bin Lep and his friend Mohd Farik Bin Amin, a.k.a. Zubair, attended a lecture by JI operations head Hambali at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11. The lecture inspired Bin Lep and Bin Amin to fight abroad, and the two sought support from Hambali, who suggested the men travel to Afghanistan for training. On June 26, 2000, Bin Lep and Bin Amin arrived in Karachi, Pakistan, then traveled through Quetta before arriving in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they stayed at the Hajji Habash Guesthouse. From July to September 2000, they both allegedly trained at al-Qaeda’s al-Farouq camp.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11.

After completing his training, Bin Lep claimed that he was stationed in Kabul, where he guarded Taliban positions and received basic training on using surface-to-air missiles. He also confessed to have continued to receive al-Qaeda military training, including urban warfare and the use of rocket-propelled grenades.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11; “Notification of Swearing of Charges in United States v. Encep Nurjaman,” U.S. Department of Defense, April 5, 2019, https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/751-2019HambaliCharges/e58e1aaf3f8134ef2fa8/optimized/full.pdf#page=1. After six months, his unit transferred to the front lines near Bagram, where Bin Lep was injured by a Russian mine. He spent about a month recovering at the Hajji Habash Guesthouse. Bin Lep then returned to al-Farouq camp and was given a job as a weapons storekeeper, which he held until shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11.

Following the October 2001 bombing of al-Farouq camp, Hambali allegedly recruited Bin Lep to take part in a martyrdom operation along with three others, including Bin Amin and two other jihadists known as Afifi and Masran.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11. According to U.S. charges, Hambali had chosen Bin Lep and the others, all Malaysian nationals who pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, to travel to the United States and launch a post-9/11 suicide bombing attack, likely in California.Carol Rosenberg, “U.S. charges Hambali at Guantánamo with Bali, Jakarta terrorist bombings,” Miami Herald, June 23, 2017, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article157887649.html; Carol Rosenberg, “Judge Postpones Guantánamo Court Appearances, Citing Pandemic,” New York Times, February 2, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/02/us/politics/guantanamo-coronavirus-hambali.html. The so-called “West Coast Airliner Plot” was devised by al-Qaeda operative KSM as a “second wave” to follow the 9/11 attacks. Hambali and the other planners believed that the Malaysian jihadists would have an easier time entering the United States than Arabs in the wake of 9/11.Patrick Winn, “Osama bin Laden's Asian disciples,” The World, May 2, 2011, https://www.pri.org/stories/2011-05-02/osama-bin-ladens-asian-disciples.

On January 20, 2002, Bin Lep, Bin Amin, and Afifi arrived in Hat Yai, Thailand, with Masran staying behind in Pakistan. According to Bin Lep’s interrogation documents, the Malaysian cell was unable to continue with the “West Coast Airliner Plot” when Masran was prevented from traveling to Thailand and Afifi subsequently returned to Malaysia. Bin Lep and Bin Amin remained in Thailand, reportedly traveling from Hat Yai to Bangkok to stay with Hambali and his wife.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11. Later, Bin Lep and Bin Amin rented an apartment together in Bangkok that served as a base of operations.“Notification of Swearing of Charges in United States v. Encep Nurjaman,” U.S. Department of Defense, April 5, 2019, https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/751-2019HambaliCharges/e58e1aaf3f8134ef2fa8/optimized/full.pdf. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Bin Lep cased flights at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok for suicide attacks against Israeli citizens and foreign embassies, in particular the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11. Bin Lep also attended flight school under an assumed identity. In 2003, Bin Lep unsuccessfully attempted to enlist in the Royal Thai Air Force using a fraudulent identification card.Patrick Winn, “Osama bin Laden's Asian disciples,” The World, May 2, 2011, https://www.pri.org/stories/2011-05-02/osama-bin-ladens-asian-disciples.

The U.S. Defense Department alleges that during his time in Bangkok, Bin Lep aided Hambali in transferring money for operations as well as obtained and stored items such as fraudulent identification documents, weapons, and bomb-making instructions. The Defense Department’s charge sheet details how these activities directly led to at least two JI-attributed terrorist attacks. In mid-2002, Bin Lep received cash from an operative in Bangkok and gave the money to Hambali, who is suspected of using the funds to finance an imminent JI attack. Then on October 12, 2002, two bombs exploded at Paddy’s Irish Bar and the Sari Club on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, killing 202 people and injuring 209 others. In the second incident in spring of 2003, Bin Lep arranged to deliver money stored at the apartment he shared with Bin Amin in Bangkok, to Indonesia and the Philippines. Hambali reportedly told Bin Lep and Bin Amin that the money being transferred to Indonesia was to be used in an upcoming operation. On August 5, 2003, JI operatives attacked the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing 12 people and wounding 150 others.“Notification of Swearing of Charges in United States v. Encep Nurjaman,” U.S. Department of Defense, April 5, 2019, https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/751-2019HambaliCharges/e58e1aaf3f8134ef2fa8/optimized/full.pdf; “Bali bombing: Guantánamo inmate Hambali charged over 2002 attack,” Guardian, June 23, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/24/bali-bombing-guantanamo-inmate-hambali-charged-over-2002-attack.

According to Bin Lep’s interrogation documents, he and Hambali rented an apartment in the city of Ayutthaya, Thailand sometime in August 2003. On August 18, Bin Lep was detained while traveling to Bangkok.“The Guantánamo Docket: Lillie (Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep): JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, October 13, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/10022-lillie-mohammed-nazir-bin-lep-/documents/11. Bin Amin and Hambali were captured around the same time. The arrests were part of a joint U.S.-Thai intelligence operation. The three suspects were transferred to Guantánamo in 2006 after three years in C.I.A. custody.Carol Rosenberg, “U.S. charges Hambali at Guantánamo with Bali, Jakarta terrorist bombings,” Miami Herald, June 23, 2017, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article157887649.html; Carol Rosenberg, “Judge Postpones Guantánamo Court Appearances, Citing Pandemic,” New York Times, February 2, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/02/us/politics/guantanamo-coronavirus-hambali.html.

According to his interrogation reports, Bin Lep expressed an obsession with attacking the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia. He also stated he dreamed of fathering many children in order to bring them into jihad and build an army, with hopes that one of them would aspire to be as strong as bin Laden.Patrick Winn, “Osama bin Laden's Asian disciples,” The World, May 2, 2011, https://www.pri.org/stories/2011-05-02/osama-bin-ladens-asian-disciples.

In November 2016, the Obama administration entered into talks with the Malaysian government regarding Malaysian detainees at Guantánamo. Both sides discussed potentially repatriating Bin Amin if he pleaded guilty to terrorism offenses, agreed to testify against Bin Lep and Hambali, and spent four more years in U.S. custody. Bin Lep was not given the same offer.“US and Malaysia discussing deal to repatriate Malaysian detainee from Guantanamo,” Straits Times, November 13, 2016, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/us-and-malaysia-discussing-deal-to-repatriate-malaysian-detainee-from-guantanamo.

The case of United States v. Encep Nurjaman (Hambali), Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin was finally approved for trial on January 21, 2021, when the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the Convening Authority, Office of Military Commissions, referred charges to a military commission.“DOD Announces Charges Referred Against Guantanamo Detainees Encep Nurjaman, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin,” U.S. Department of Defense, January 21, 2021, https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Advisories/Advisory/Article/2479146/dod-announces-charges-referred-against-guantanamo-detainees-encep-nurjaman-moha/. It was the first new case at Guantánamo Bay since 2014. Prosecutors are not permitted to seek the death penalty and it is possible for the suspects to negotiate toward a guilty plea and serve their sentences elsewhere.Carol Rosenberg, “Pentagon Official Approves Guantánamo Trial of 3 Men for Indonesia Bombings,” New York Times, January 21, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/21/us/politics/guantanamo-trial-indonesia-bombings.html.

On February 1, 2021, a military judge indefinitely postponed the arraignment of Bin Lep and two co-defendants at Guantánamo. Bin Lep was scheduled to make his first court appearance after 17 years in detention on February 22, 2021. However, the judge said the risk to the health and safety of trial participants due to the COVID-19 pandemic was too high to proceed.“Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin,” United Nations Security Council, March 28, 2011, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/nurjaman-riduan-isamuddin; Carol Rosenberg, “Judge Postpones Guantánamo Court Appearances, Citing Pandemic,” New York Times, February 2, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/02/us/politics/guantanamo-coronavirus-hambali.html. The three men are scheduled to be arraigned on August 30, 2021.“Military Commissions Media Invitation Announced for United States v. Encep Nurjaman; Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep; Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, Arraignment,” U.S. Department of Defense, June 28, 2021, https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Advisories/Advisory/Article/2673035/military-commissions-media-invitation-announced-for-united-states-v-encep-nurja/source/GovDelivery/; “Amended Arraignment Order,” U.S. Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions, April 16, 2021, https://www.mc.mil/Portals/0/pdfs/Nurjaman/Nurjaman%20(AE0002.008(TJ)(CorrectedCopy)).pdf.

Also Known As

Extremist entity
Al-Qaeda
Type(s) of Organization:
Non-state actor, religious, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Jihadist, pan-Islamist, Qutbist, Salafist, Sunni, takfiri
Position(s):
Operative

Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks was the deadliest ever on American soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Since the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has established operations worldwide, including in Syria, the Gulf, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

Extremist entity
Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)
Type(s) of Organization:
Insurgent, non-state actor, religious, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Islamist, jihadist, Qutbist, Salafist, Sunni, takfiri
Position(s):
Senior member

Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks was the deadliest ever on American soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Since the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has established operations worldwide, including in Syria, the Gulf, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

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