Indonesian police on Monday announced the arrest of the suspected leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian militant network that authorities blamed for Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist attack, the Bali bombings of October 2002.
Suspect Para Wijayanto, 54, who was on a government most-wanted list since 2003, was arrested with his wife, Masitha Yasmin, at a hotel in Bekasi regency near Jakarta on Saturday, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said. He did not release details of what led to Para’s capture nor did he comment on Masitha’s arrest.
In addition, counter-terrorism police arrested three men they described as Para’s trusted aides – identified as Abdurrahman, Budi Trikaryanto and Bambang Suyoso – in separate locations on Sunday, Dedi said.
Police allege that Para assumed leadership of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and rebuilt terror cells after 2007, when a court in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country declared it an illegal organization.
“JI underwent a metamorphosis in 2007 after it was disbanded. Para was installed as the emir of JI in Indonesia,” Dedi said.
In 2000, Para undertook military training in the southern Philippines, where he learned intelligence and bomb-making skills, said Dedi, who described the suspect as a civil engineering graduate from a reputable university in Java.
Para allegedly had roles in several deadly JI attacks including the coordinated bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 18 people, and the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202, including 88 Australians.
Police have blamed JI members for other attacks including the 2003 bombing at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, in which 12 were killed, the 2004 attack on the Australian Embassy that killed nine, and the 2009 twin bombings at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta that killed seven along with two suicide bombers.
In addition to his efforts in rebuilding JI, Para provided intelligence and helped recruit militants in Poso, Central Sulawesi province between 2005 and 2007, Dedi said. Poso had been the scene of previous clashes between Muslims and Christians that left thousands dead.
“Para took advantage of his intelligence skills to help the network in Poso which later morphed into the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen,” Dedi said.
Fervently opposed to the Islamic State
Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic militancy in Indonesia and director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said Para was appointed as JI emir, or leader, in 2008 and appeared to have remained in the leadership role.
Jones said that while JI was a threat, she cautioned against lumping it with Islamic State (IS).
“As far as we know, JI leaders like Para Wijayanto and Abu Rusdan still see violence in Indonesia as counter-productive. They don’t support violence and are fervently opposed to ISIS,” Jones told BenarNews, using a different acronym for the IS.
She said Para and other JI leaders wanted the group to expand gradually to create a Muslim state in Indonesia.
“That doesn’t mean that they don’t see violence as legitimate, it’s just that they, for the time being, aren’t engaged in violence because in their opinion, there’s no public support and it creates more harm than good,” she added.
Still, JI leaders believe they must prepare for future jihad, Jones said.
“They believe in military training, so it’s likely they supported their followers who traveled to Syria, or even sent them there, but not to join ISIS, but fight them,” she said.
Jones said JI had severed ties with its co-founder, cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is serving a 15-year-jail term, after he founded the Indonesian Mujahideen Council.
Bashir was arrested after the 2002 Bali bombings, but prosecutors could not link him to that attack. A Jakarta court did find him guilty of falsifying documents and sentenced him to 18 months in prison.
The cleric was jailed after his 2010 arrest and sentenced in 2011 to 15 years on charges that he helped fund a training camp for Islamic militants in Aceh province, and incited extremists to carry out terrorist attacks.
Earlier this year, the government announced that Bashir, 80, would be released from custody on humanitarian grounds because of his age and ill health. Later, officials announced that Bashir could be paroled if he signed a pledge of allegiance to the state, but he refused to do so.