Indonesian Authorities Fly Dozens of Jemaah Islamiyah Suspects to Jakarta

Tia Asmara
Indonesian Authorities Fly Dozens of Jemaah Islamiyah Suspects to Jakarta Police officers escort suspected Jemaah Islamiyah militant Upik Lawanga (center) after he and other suspects were flown to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, near Jakarta, Dec. 16, 2020.

Indonesian police on Wednesday transferred 23 suspected members of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah militant group, who were arrested on Sumatra Island in recent weeks, to Jakarta for investigation.

This was the first announcement of the arrests of 21 of the 23 JI suspects who landed in Jakarta aboard a special flight.

“We have just moved 23 terrorist suspects from Jemaah Islamiyah from Lampung to Jakarta,” National Police spokesman Kombes Ahmad Ramadhan told reporters.

A video released by the police showed the suspects disembarking from the plane at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, handcuffed and blindfolded.

Among them were Aris Sumarsono, JI’s military commander during the 2002 Bali bombings, and Upik Lawanga, a bomb maker, Ahmad said.

Aris, better known as Zulkarnaen, was arrested in Lampung province on Dec. 10. He had been on the run from the authorities for 18 years. He is suspected of involvement in several attacks in the early 2000s, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people – Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist strike to date.

“He was also the leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah military wing and was a trainer at a militant academy in Afghanistan for seven years,” Ahmad said.

Zulkarnaen was also suspected of being involved in sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian communities in the Maluku Islands and in Poso regency in Sulawesi, between 1998 and 2000, Ahmad said.  

Another JI suspect, Upik, who was arrested last month in Lampung after being a fugitive for 14 years, was also among those flown to Jakarta on Wednesday. The police had accused Upik of involvement in several attacks in Central Sulawesi province between 2004 and 2006.

Upik is an expert bomb-maker for JI, and was a valuable asset to the group because he was believed to be a successor to Azahari Husin, a JI bomb-maker killed more than 10 years ago.

Police were still investigating the roles of the 21 other arrested suspects, said another police spokesman, Aswin Siregar.

“Regarding the 21 suspects, we’re still delving into their cases, including their roles in harboring Upik Lawanga and Zulkarnaen and providing logistical support,” Aswin told reporters.

Last month, police said they had arrested Siswanto, a senior religious scholar who was among the candidates to be named JI’s next leader.

The anti-terror unit Densus 88 arrested Siswanto (also known as Arif Siswanto) during a raid in Central Java’s Klaten regency on Nov. 13, police said.

Siswanto acted as an interim replacement for Para Wijayanto, the overall leader of JI who was sentenced to seven years in prison in July, said Muhammad Taufiqurrohman, a researcher at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR).

Last month, police said they had arrested 30 JI members since the start of this year.

Still a threat

JI remains a threat despite the recent arrests of its leaders, said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).

“Even though JI's top leaders have been arrested and will definitely spend years in prison, it has the capacity to come back and to survive,” Jones told BenarNews.

“JI is the only extremist organization in Indonesia that has a long-term strategy,” she said, adding that for its members, JI is not just an organization but “a way of life”

While not an immediate threat, JI is still clinging to the idea of establishing an Islamic state, Jones said.

“They are waiting for an opportunity to start a revolution,” said Jones.

Zulkarnaen and Upik, though, may not pose a threat any more as they had been inactive for a long time, Jones said.

“They are not dangerous. Zulkarnaen has not done anything for 18 years, while Upik Lawanga has not been involved in any act for 14 years,” she said.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that the government had so far paid 39.2 billion rupiah ($2.8 million) in compensation to 215 victims of 40 terrorist attacks in the country.

“The amount is not comparable to the suffering of the victims, but it may provide some comfort in facing the difficult situation they are going through,” Jokowi said.

Terror accusation against FPI members

On Tuesday, National Police Commission Chairman Benny Mamoto said that 37 current or former members of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) had been involved in terrorism in Indonesia.

Many of these FPI associates had also joined pro-Islamic State groups Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), he said in a YouTube interview with the news website

“I have the data with me that 37 FPI members or former FPI members have joined JAD, MIT and others groups involved in acts of terrorism,” Benny said.

Last week, police arrested FPI founder and firebrand cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, after he turned himself in for questioning in connection with gatherings that flouted COVID-19 restrictions.

Police said Rizieq faced charges of breaking a health quarantine order and inciting people to commit a crime. He could face up to six years in prison if convicted.




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