Malaysia Welcomes US Announcement to Prosecute Terror Suspect Hambali, 2 Others

Muzliza Mustafa, Noah Lee and Ronna Nirmala
Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta
Malaysia Welcomes US Announcement to Prosecute Terror Suspect Hambali, 2 Others An inmate is seen inside the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, June 6, 2018.

Malaysia on Friday welcomed a U.S. decision to refer charges against Hambali and two other Guantanamo Bay inmates to a military tribunal, saying justice would be served by trial proceedings that must begin in one month, according to an American official.

A lawyer representing Hambali, an Indonesian national, meanwhile maintained that he should be tried in his home country over terror-related charges against him. Hambali and two Malaysian suspects incarcerated at the U.S. military base in Cuba face a raft of charges that stems from deadly bombings in Bali and Jakarta in 2002 and 2003.

“It’s a good move by the U.S. – they [the defendants] will now have the opportunity to argue their case in court,” Malaysian counterterror police chief Normah Ishak told BenarNews.

“Justice will be served and seen [to] be served through a court trial,” she said.

Hambali, whose real name is Encep Nurjaman, was arrested in Thailand in August 2003 with Malaysians Mohammad Nazir Lep and Mohd Farik Bin Amin. They were sent to a secret CIA prison network before being moved to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in September 2006.

A statement issued by the Pentagon late Thursday said terrorism charges against the three had been referred to a military commission, a step which begins a countdown to a military trial. But it was not immediately clear how the coronavirus pandemic would affect this schedule.

“The Department of Defense announced today that the Convening Authority, Office of Military Commissions, referred charges to a military commission in the case of United States v. Encep Nurjaman, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin,” the statement said.

“The regulation states that the arraignment will occur within 30 days of the referral,” Ron Flesvig, spokesman for the Convening Authority of the Office of the Military Commissions, told BenarNews. 

“The next step is for the chief judge to detail a military judge. The regulation states that within ten working days of service of charges, trial counsel, defense counsel, and the military judge shall conduct a teleconference or communicate via e-mail to set the arraignment date,” he said.

A U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) profile of Hambali describes him as an operational mastermind for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda – the group that carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Authorities in Indonesia blame JI for carrying the country’s deadliest terrorist attack to date, twin bombings that killed 202 people in Bali in October 2002. According to the Pentagon, Hambali helped plan that attack and the 2003 bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that left 12 dead.

All three defendants face eight charges – conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, terrorism, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, destruction of property, according to copies of the charge sheets released by the DoD. The two Malaysians were charged with accessory after the fact – “all in violation of the law of war.”

The news release said arraignment on the charges, which do not carry the death penalty, are pending.


Indonesian police check the site of a bomb blast at a tourist area in Kuta on Bali Island, Oct. 14, 2002. (AFP)

Timing questioned

In Malaysia, a counterterrorism expert questioned the timing of the American announcement.

“Hambali, Nazir Lep and Mohd Farik have been under U.S. detention for more than 10 years now. Why then did the convening authorities suddenly decide to bring this case to the tribunal,” analyst Ahmad El Muhammady told BenarNews. “The failure to answer this question would put the integrity of U.S. legal system into question.

“I believe the duo should be returned to Malaysia, because they are Malaysians and we have a good legal system to deal with the problem like that,” said El Muhammady of the International Islamic University Malaysia.

In Indonesia, Achmad Michdan, a lawyer who represents Hambali, said he wanted the trial moved from the U.S. prison in Cuba.

“It seems that the U.S. military did not know what to do with him, even though we had discussed that a trial should not take place there,” he told BenarNews.

Michdan said he had communicated with Maj. James Valentine, a U.S. military lawyer representing Hambali.

Encep Nurjamen (alias Hambali) is shown in this undated photo at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [Federal Public Defender’s Office via AP]

“Before the pandemic we had planned to visit [Hambali]. We had sent files to the Pentagon,” Michdan said. “We wanted to bring a doctor, but it was cancelled because of the pandemic.”

In April 2019, Valentine, mocked the addition of the conspiracy charge as the prosecution’s “desperate attempt” to salvage the military commission’s credibility.

American authorities did not want Hambali’s case to go to court because the trial would reveal the torture that his client had suffered from his military captors, the lawyer alleged.

“I don’t think the U.S. possesses the moral authority or the practical ability to try this case because in order to try this case, in accordance with human rights standards and rule of law standards, they have to reveal the crimes of torture,” Valentine told BenarNews at the time.


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