The alleged leader of a militant group blamed for Indonesia’s deadliest terror attack – the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people – went on trial on Wednesday, charged with a criminal conspiracy to carry out acts of terrorism.
Para Wijayanto, 55, suspected chief of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), could face the death penalty if found guilty under the country’s tough anti-terrorism laws.
“[Para] planned or directed others to carry out acts of terrorism,” chief prosecutor Solehudin said, reading out the indictment at the East Jakarta district court.
Court documents said Para restructured JI, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia, after it was outlawed by a court in 2007.
“The defendant also wrote a new manual book on the JI struggle,” the indictment said.
Para spent 140 million rupiah ($9,000) on military training for JI members to support global “jihad,” the prosecution said.
A lawyer for Para, Faris, rejected the allegations and challenged the prosecutors to prove their indictment in court, but the trial was adjourned until April 1.
Police said last year that Para had been on Indonesia’s most-wanted list since 2003. He was arrested in Bekasi near Jakarta in late June with his wife, Masitha Yasmin.
The JI threat
Police allege that Para assumed leadership of JI and rebuilt terror cells after 2007, when a court in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country declared it an illegal organization.
In 2000, Para undertook military training in the southern Philippines, where he learned intelligence and bomb-making skills, according to authorities, who described the suspect as a civil engineering graduate from a reputable university in Java.
Para allegedly had roles in several deadly JI attacks, including the coordinated bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 18 people, and the 2002 Bali bombings.
Police have blamed JI members for other attacks including the 2003 bombing at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, in which 12 were killed, the 2004 attack on the Australian Embassy that killed nine, and the 2009 twin bombings at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta that killed seven along with two suicide bombers.
In addition to his efforts in rebuilding JI, Para provided intelligence and helped recruit militants in Poso, Central Sulawesi province between 2005 and 2007, police said. Poso was the scene of previous clashes between Muslims and Christians that left thousands dead.
Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic militancy in Indonesia and director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said last year that while JI was a threat, she cautioned against lumping it with Islamic State (IS).
“As far as we know, JI leaders like Para Wijayanto and Abu Rusdan still see violence in Indonesia as counter-productive. They don’t support violence and are fervently opposed to ISIS,” Jones told BenarNews in July, using another acronym for the IS.
She said Para and other JI leaders wanted the group to expand gradually to create a Muslim state in Indonesia.
“That doesn’t mean that they don’t see violence as legitimate, it’s just that they, for the time being, aren’t engaged in violence because in their opinion, there’s no public support and it creates more harm than good,” she added.
Jones said JI had severed ties with its co-founder, cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is serving a 15-year-jail term, after he founded the Indonesian Mujahideen Council.
Bashir was arrested after the 2002 Bali bombings, but prosecutors could not link him to that attack. The cleric was jailed after his 2010 arrest and sentenced in 2011 to 15 years on charges that he helped fund a training camp for Islamic militants in Aceh province, and incited extremists to carry out terrorist attacks.
Last year, the government announced that Bashir, 80, would be released from custody on humanitarian grounds because of his age and ill health. Later, officials said Bashir could be paroled if he signed a pledge of allegiance to the state, but he refused to do so.