Indonesian Court Condemns Militant Bomb-maker to Life in Prison

Arie Firdaus
Indonesian Court Condemns Militant Bomb-maker to Life in Prison Police officers escort suspected militant Upik Lawanga (also known as Taufiq Bulaga) upon arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, Dec. 16, 2020.

An Indonesian court sentenced a bomb-maker for the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group to life in prison on Wednesday for his involvement in a series of deadly bombings in Central Sulawesi province in the mid-2000s.

The 42-year-old defendant, Taufiq Bulaga (also known as Upik Lawanga), one of the top leaders of JI, a regional militant network affiliated with al-Qaeda, was arrested late last year after being on the run for 14 years. Indonesian authorities have blamed JI for carrying out the 2002 Bali bombings – the country’s deadliest terrorist attack to date – as well as attacks on hotels in Jakarta in the 2000s, among other atrocities.

Judges at the East Jakarta District Court found Taufiq guilty of assembling bombs used in three terrorist attacks that left 29 people dead in Poso regency, which was the scene of Muslim-Christian violence at the turn of the century.

“The defendant’s actions were heinous and caused deep wounds to the families of the victims who died and trauma for the injured victims,” ​​Chief Judge Sutikna said.

Taufiq said he would appeal.

The attacks tied to him included a bomb that exploded in Poso’s Central Market on Nov. 13, 2004, killing six people.

The next year, a bomb attack on the Tentena market killed 22 people. That was followed by another bomb blast, which killed one person in Poso in 2006.

Police had initially said that Taufiq was involved in the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, the murder of three schoolgirls in Poso in 2005, and suicide attacks on the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in 2009, but these were not mentioned in the indictment.

Taufiq was arrested in Lampung province in November 2020.

Another JI militant, Aris Sumarsono, also known as Zulkarnaen, is on trial at the same court for allegedly harboring Taufiq in Lampung.

Police said Zulkarnaen founded a special team whose members launched the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people.

Moh Adhe Bhakti, a terrorism analyst at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), said JI remained a potent security threat despite the arrest of many of its members, including Taufiq.

JI still has other members who are skilled in bomb-making, thanks to their participating in military training in places such as Afghanistan, the southern Philippines and Syria.

“They have maintained a fighting force, among others, by sending personnel to Syria,” Adhe told BenarNews.

“Taufiq was trained by these (Afghan) alumni. He’s just one of the students. You can imagine the skills of the people who tutored him,” Adhe said.

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

In November, police arrested three people suspected of being involved with JI, including a senior member of the semi-official Indonesian Council of Ulema.

“Since Para Wijayanto took over the leadership [in 2008], JI has undergone reorganization and changed its tactics by infiltrating state institutions and mass organizations,” Ahmad 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 moderate 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.

JI has not staged a major attack here since 2011.

Criminal conspiracy

In a separate session at the East Jakarta District Court on Wednesday, prosecutors indicted a former secretary general of the now-disbanded hardline group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Munarman, on charges of a criminal conspiracy to commit terrorism. They allege that he took part in an event in 2015 where participants pledged allegiance to the group known as Islamic State (IS).

A prosecutor said the event took place at FPI headquarters in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, and was disguised as a religious gathering by the Front.

“The event’s organizers informed Munarman by telephone that the event was a declaration of support for ISIS and the defendant replied, ‘OK,’” said Enen Saribanon, the prosecutor.

Munarman has denied that he had knowledge of the pledge of allegiance, saying he was invited as a speaker at an unrelated event.  

According to the indictment, Munarman first pledged allegiance to IS in 2014 in an event organized by a student group at the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic University in South Tangerang, near Jakarta.

Munarman’s lawyer, Juju Purwantoro, said in September that his client had condemned terrorism in many of his speeches and had warned people of the danger of radicalism.

Trained as a lawyer, Munarman once headed the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation before becoming an FPI spokesman.

Munarman could face a maximum 20 years in prison if found guilty under the country’s anti-terrorism laws.

Munarman said he objected to the indictment.

“There are so many typographical and terminological errors in the indictment,” Munarman told the court.

The Indonesian government officially banned the FPI last year after it accused the group of violating the law and disrupting peace and security. In addition, 35 members and former members were convicted on terrorism charges.

The decision to ban the organization was taken jointly by Indonesia’s home, law and communications ministers, the police and counter terrorism heads, and the attorney general.


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