Indonesian Militant Linked to Bali Bombings Sentenced to 15 Years

Arie Firdaus
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Indonesian Militant Linked to Bali Bombings Sentenced to 15 Years Police escort suspected militant Zulkarnaen (also known as Aris Sumarsono), upon his arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, Dec. 16, 2020.

An Indonesian court convicted and sentenced a commander of a militant group linked with al-Qaeda to 15 years in prison Wednesday for withholding information about terrorist plots, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

Arif Sunarso, better known as Zulkarnaen, founded and led a small division within the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant group, a Jakarta District Court heard. The “khos” cell, as it was known by the Arabic word for “special,” was tasked with carrying out attacks.

“The defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of being an accessory and withholding information about acts of terrorism by failing to report [to authorities] about the organization’s plans,” a member of the three-judge panel said.

“The defendant’s involvement in the ‘khos’ team has created many victims,” the judge added. The names of the judges were withheld for their security.

Zulkarnaen and members of khos discussed a possible attack on Bali Island, but he was not informed about details of the devastating plot, which culminated in twin bombings there on Oct. 12, 2002, according to the court.

“I accept,” Zulkarnaen replied when a judge asked him about the verdict.

Several members of the cell, including Imam Samudera, Ali Imron, and Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, were found guilty of masterminding the bombings that destroyed two Bali nightclubs in Southeast Asia’s deadliest-ever terror attack. Three of the masterminds were sentenced to death in 2008.

Indonesian authorities blamed JI, the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda, for the 2002 Bali bombings and other attacks in Indonesia in the 2000s. An Indonesian court declared JI an outlawed organization in 2008.

The prosecution, which had requested a life sentence for Zulkarnaen, said it would appeal the verdict to the Jakarta High Court.

Zulkarnaen, also known as Aris Sumarsono, had been on the run for about 18 years until he was arrested in December 2020. Police had declared Zulkarnaen a fugitive shortly after the Bali bombings.

Authorities said he was involved in drafting JI’s guidebook and was among the first Indonesians who trained in Afghanistan, before moving to Pakistan and then the southern Philippines.

Before his arrest in 2020 on Sumatra Island, Zulkarnaen harbored a senior JI militant named Taufik Bulaga, who was wanted for involvement in a series of attacks in Central Sulawesi province.

In December, a Jakarta court sentenced Taufik (also known as Upik Lawanga) to life in prison.

Zulkarnaen was on a United Nations Security Council sanctions list for alleged links to al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

According to the U.N., Zulkarnaen was one of al-Qaeda’s representatives in Southeast Asia and one of the few people in Indonesia who had had direct contact with bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan in 2011.

Although JI has not staged a major attack here since 2011 and is not considered an immediate threat, security analysts have said it could destabilize Indonesia in the future.

JI’s spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, 84, was released from prison last year after serving nearly 10 years of a 15-year-sentence on terror-related charges. Experts say the organization has been rebuilding slowly since then.

JI has also sent jihadists to fight in Syria in the past.

Dete Alijah, executive director of Society Against Radicalism and Violent Extremism (SeRVe) Indonesia, said that JI lately had been trying to infiltrate government institutions.

“JI has started to shift. They want to get into the system to slowly take power,” Dete told BenarNews.

In November, a senior official at the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT), Ahmad Nurwakhid, said JI militants had tried to infiltrate the Indonesian military, police and government ministries for more than a decade.

Nurwakhid’s comments came after police arrested three people suspected of being involved with JI, including a senior member of the semi-official Indonesian Council of Ulema, which groups senior Islamic scholars.

“Since Para Wijayanto took over the leadership [in 2008], JI has undergone reorganization and changed its tactics by infiltrating state institutions and mass organizations,” Nurwakhid, deputy for prevention at BNPT, told BenarNews at the time.

The official was referring to JI’s emir, or leader, who was arrested in 2019 and subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison last year for leading the outlawed organization.

“It’s very likely they [have tried to infiltrate] other religious organizations such as Muhammadiyah, NU [Nahdlatul Ulama], NGOs, sports groups and biking groups,” Nurwakhid said. Muhammadiyah and NU are Islamic groups in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Police have arrested 876 members of the group since the 2002 Bali bombings, police said in October. 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, they warned.


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