Indonesia: Tip By Terror Convict Leads Police to Explosive Stash

Tria Dianti and Arie Firdaus
Indonesia: Tip By Terror Convict Leads Police to Explosive Stash Members of a police bomb-squad inspect the wreckage of motorcycles at the site of a bombing outside a church in Surabaya, Indonesia in which the TATP explosive was used, according to experts, May 13, 2018.

Information obtained from a convicted pro-Islamic State militant led to the seizure of 35 kilos of home-made explosives at the foot of a mountain in West Java province earlier this month, Indonesian police said Wednesday. 

Prisoner Imam Mulyana, a member of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian militant network affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, was arrested in 2017 in Cirebon, a city in West Java, for a failed attempt to attack an entourage of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

“Imam made an astonishing confession that he and his group had kept 35 kilograms of TATP,” said Aswin Siregar, a top officer with Densus 88, Indonesia’s elite anti-terrorism police unit. 

Imam guided the police to Mount Ciremai near Cirebon to find the stash of triacetone triperoxide (TATP), a powerful home-made explosive known to militants as the Mother of Satan, Aswin told BenarNews. 

TATP, which is highly unstable, has been used in several terrorist attacks in recent years. These include the 2005 London Underground bombing, terror attacks in Paris in 2015, attacks on the Brussels metro and airport in 2016, and a bombing the next year at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, according to New America, a Washington think-tank.

“Thanks to our de-radicalization efforts, Imam Mulyana asked us on October 1 to secure the dangerous material,” said Aswin, who heads the operational support at Densus 88, which also runs a program to reform militants and reintegrate them into society.

Imam traveled with the police to the mountain hideout the same day. Aswin said that a police bomb-squad disposed of the stash of TATP in the mountain as soon as the authorities found it.

Only 50 grams of the materiel was enough to create a one-meter-wide and 20-centimeter-deep hole when detonated in a controlled explosion, Aswin said, adding the blasts from disposing of the explosive caused severe vibrations, holes in the ground, and landslides.

Imam, 31, “was fully aware that the terrorist act they had planned was a crime against humanity and a betrayal of his religion,” Aswin said. 

Stanislaus Riyanta, a security researcher at the University of Indonesia, praised the police for their work.

“This is proof that [the militants] had a big plan. This finding should prompt the police to look for more explosive stashes,” Stanislaus told BenarNews. 

JI militant trial 

Meanwhile, people convicted of the 2002 Bali bombings testified in the trial of Aris Sumarsono, who is better known as Zulkarnaen and is the former military leader of the outlawed militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Zulkarnaen, 58, who had been on the run for about 18 years when he was arrested last year, is charged with a criminal conspiracy for allegedly harboring Upik Lawanga. Police said Upik, who was also arrested last year, was a top JI bomb-maker.

Indonesian authorities blamed JI for a series of deadly attacks in Indonesia in the early 2000s, including the October 2002 bombings at nightclubs in Bali, which killed 202 people in Indonesia’s most fatal terror attack.

The outlawed JI is the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda, but it has not staged a major attack here since 2011.

Zulkarnaen is not charged with involvement in the Bali bombings, even though witnesses said he was the group’s military leader at that time. 

In a virtual hearing, the witnesses told the court that Zulkarnaen formed and recruited members for a JI special team to prepare attacks. But they said they never met or took orders from Zulkarnaen before the Bali attack.

“Regarding the Bali bombing, [Zulkarnaen] has nothing to do with it, but long before the Bali bombing, he had been our leader,” said Sarjio, who is serving a life sentence for helping assemble the bombs used in the attack.

Another witness, Suranto, said Zulkarnaen had never provided any directions regarding the Bali bombings. Suranto said he joined the special team set up by Zulkarnaen.

“I have known him since we joined military training in Pakistan. Other members have known the defendant since he was in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Suranto testified.

Muhammad Adhe Bhakti, a researcher at the Center for Radicalism and De-radicalization Studies (PAKAR), said terror groups created cells whose members often do not know each other.

“It is possible that the witnesses of the Bali bombing did not know who played what role in the attack, including what role Zulkarnaen played,” Adhe told BenarNews.

According to the indictment, Zulkarnaen helped write JI’s guidebook. During his escape, other JI members helped Zulkarnaen and provided him with cash because he was considered a valuable asset and had military expertise, it said.


Police officers escort suspected militant Zulkarnaen (center) upon arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport outside Jakarta, Dec. 16, 2020. [AP]

On Tuesday, a top counter-terrorism official said that police remained vigilant against threats posed by JI.

Police have arrested 876 members of the group since the 2002 Bali bombings, according to M.D. Shodiq, a director at Densus 88. 

But the number of JI members and sympathizers is estimated to be 10 times as many, with 67 JI-affiliated religious schools suspected to be breeding grounds for militants, he warned.

In 2020, JI’s overall leader, Para Wijayanto, was sentenced to seven years in prison. The group’s radical spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, 83, was released from prison in January after serving nearly a decade of a 15-year-sentence on terror-related charges. 

Ronna Nirmala contributed to this report from Jakarta.


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