Couple Linked to Suicide Bombings at Indonesian Churches Sentenced to Prison

Arie Firdaus and Rina Chadijah
190314_ID_Sentence_1000.jpg Defendants Syamsul Arifin (left) and Agus Satrio stand during their sentencing at the West Jakarta District Court, March 14, 2019.
Arie Firdaus/BenarNews

An Indonesian court on Thursday sentenced a married couple to prison for their roles in suicide bombings last May on three churches and police headquarters in the country’s second largest city, Surabaya.

The couple and a third defendant were the first suspects to be convicted in connection with last year’s attacks, which authorities blamed on Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian militant network affiliated with the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

Judges at the West Jakarta district court found Agus Satrio Widodo, 35, and his wife, Damayanti, guilty of being involved in a criminal conspiracy and aiding criminal acts of terrorism. Agus was chairman of the Jombang branch of JAD, the court found.

“The bombings were the work of JAD and designed to create the atmosphere of terror,” presiding Judge Agus Setiawan ruled. “The defendant Agus, as the chair of JAD in the Jombang area, cannot be absolved from them.”

In a separate development on Thursday, police said they had found and confiscated hundreds of kilos of explosives from two homes, including a house where a woman and her 2-year-old child died when she detonated a bomb in North Sumatra province the previous day, police said.

In the West Jakarta courtroom, Agus was sentenced to eight years and his wife was sentenced to three years and four months following the trial that began in November 2018.

In addition, Syamsul Arifin, who was tried in the same courtroom at the same time, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for inciting followers to attack police and the military, and for organizing militant training. Police identified him as the head of JAD in Blitar regency in East Java province. Surabaya is the provincial capital.

The prosecutor had sought 12 years in jail for Agus and five years for his wife, but the judges said their expressions of remorse were mitigating factors. The couple shook the judges’ hands after the verdict was read out loud but neither commented.

The couple was linked to the series of attacks in May 2018, when two families, including children as young as 9, carried out suicide bombings on three churches and a police station in Surabaya, killing themselves and 15 bystanders.

The next night, three members of a family died when their bomb exploded during a police raid on a Surabaya apartment, bringing the death toll to 28.

Bomb-making materials

On Thursday, police announced they had confiscated 300 kilos (661 pounds) of bomb-making materials including from the house where a woman killed herself and her child on Wednesday.

Officers identified the woman as the wife of a suspected JAD militant named Husain (alias Abu Hamzah), who was arrested Tuesday for allegedly plotting to attack police targets. National police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo said Husain had been a member of the militant group for six years and had been trained to build bombs.

Materials found at Husain’s house included five pipe bombs, four gas cylinders and 100 kg (220 pounds) of flash powder, Dedi said.

“In total there were 300 kilograms. Some have been destroyed, some have been secured for the purpose of the investigation,” Dedi told BenarNews, adding that the materials could be used to create powerful bombs.

Police anti-terrorism unit Densus 88, meanwhile, was hunting for people suspected of providing money to Husain to buy the explosives, Dedi said.

Al Chaidar, a terrorism analyst, questioned whether Husain and his alleged accomplices belonged to JAD. He said they were members of Jamaah Anshar Daulah Khilafah Nusantara, which was formed in 2016 and is affiliated with IS. The group has an estimated 900 members across Sumatra, he said.

“They were indoctrinated by Bahrun Naim through a number of channels on Telegram (messaging service) and other social media outlets. Plans for this attack might have been aimed at proving their existence,” the analyst based at Malikul Saleh University told BenarNews.

Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian militant who fought with IS in Syria, was killed by U.S. forces in June 2018.

Stanislaus Riyanta, a security analyst at the University of Indonesia, said Husain’s alleged plots likely were not linked to a presidential election scheduled for April 17.

“The setbacks suffered by IS in Syria have triggered its sympathizers to take action in their respective countries,” he told Benar.

Also on Thursday, a suspected militant identified by authorities only by his initials, R.G., and whose alias is Abu Riky, was arrested in Rokan Hilir regency on Sumatra island, Dedi said.

The suspect had allegedly posted about terrorist events on social media platforms including WhatsApp, and had sent messages inciting people to commit terrorism.


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