An Indonesian steakhouse owner and former convicted radical says he’s savoring his freedom and has renounced his old ways, but helps friends who are still behind bars through small kindnesses.
Yusuf Adirima has been out of prison for more than seven years now, after serving slightly more than half of a 10-year sentence on terrorism-related charges for stockpiling 26 bombs and ammunition at a house in Semarang, Central Java, in 2003.
“Now I can eat whatever I want and it is very easy. While in the prison, if you want to eat delicious food you have to think first,” Yusuf, the 40-year-old owner of the Dapoer Bistik restaurant in the city of Solo, told BenarNews.
Yusuf (also known as Machmudi Haryono) is a former member of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate that carried out the 2002 Bali bombings, among other terrorist acts, and he also served with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a rebel group in the southern Philippines.
In an interview, he related how he drifted into radicalism following his graduation from high school. After leaving high school, Yusuf enrolled at an Islamic boarding school (pesantren) in Jombang, East Java.
While studying there, he said he learned about another pesantren in Lamongan, which was run by Amrozi, a militant who was later convicted and executed for his role in the Bali bombings that killed 202 people.
“The pesantren was in the jungle, very small and even had no mosque,” Yusuf said.
He said he was surprised to discover that it had classes where primary grade students were trained to use weapons.
In 2000, he set off with 35 other people “on a journey to jihad.” He headed to Malaysia, and then to the Philippines, where he wound up in a camp operated by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), another militant group based in the southern Philippines. Abu Sayyaf has recently carried out maritime kidnappings of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors.
“There, I saw for myself how small children carried weapons, just like in my jihadist books. They were holding M-16s,” Yusuf recalled.
He received weapons training, became a marksman and returned to Indonesia in mid-2002. He was arrested the next year.
Since being freed from prison in January 2009, Yusuf has built a nice life for himself.
He says he has put his radical past behind him, but stays in touch with former friends in the old terrorist networks who remain locked up.
He tries to find time to get away from his restaurant and rental car businesses to visit them in prison, sometimes bringing along steak dinners that he cooks up for them in the prison yard.
He will help friends with special requests that are harmless. One pal who is serving a life sentence asked Yusuf for a pair of jeans, which Yusuf promised he would deliver during his next visit to the prison
“A simple thing, a simple request, but it is difficult for him to fulfill since he is in prison,” Yusuf said.
He will also pick up his friends who need rides when they are released from prison. If Yusof isn’t free, he will ask his car rental employees to fetch them because he does not want the ex-prisoners to be lonely.
“If, after their release, they want to return to the community or to their family, I will help. But if they want to go back to bombing, please do business with Densus 88 – I do not want to be involved,” Yusof said, referring to the Indonesian police’s special anti-terror unit.
“Many of them invited me to bomb again. They said what I do now is for materialistic purposes while bombing is a way to heaven,” Yusuf said.
“I have a religious teacher who received a life sentence, who always [tried to persuade] me to become an IS [Islamic State] supporter, every time I visited him. After I was asked for the fourth time, I stopped seeing him,” he added.
Meanwhile, people in the Solo community know that Yusuf is an ex-militant who owns a local restaurant, but that hasn’t scared them from frequenting his establishment.
“The important thing is the food is yummy and cheap,” said Anangga, a customer who often dines at the steakhouse with his wife and two children.
While Yusuf owns the place and does a lot of the cooking, he has entrusted the restaurant’s management to a friend, Widodo, with whom Yusuf worked at a restaurant close to the Central Java police headquarters in 2009.
“He is a good person, helpful and quick to respond,” Widodo, 39, said about his friend.
Although Yusuf occasionally answers questions from police, who come by asking questions related to investigations into terrorist cases, he says that he is not on the payroll of National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).
Liliek Darmanto, a spokesman for Central Java police, acknowledged that officers do keep an eye out on Yusuf even though he has served out his prison term.
“Just to know how he has been, if he is OK, that’s all. The rest of the monitoring is by the community,” Liliek told BenarNews.