JAKARTA, INDONESIA (AP) – Indonesian prosecutors yesterday demanded a life sentence for a top terror suspect who eluded capture for 18 years and accused him of masterminding a series of deadly attacks in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Aris Sumarsono, 58, whose real name is Arif Sunarso but is better known as Zulkarnaen, sat impassively as the prosecution announced the sentencing demand before a panel of three judges in East Jakarta District Court in a session that was held remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Police and prosecutors said Zulkarnaen is the former military commander of a Southeast Asian militant group with ties to al-Qaeda. The group is widely blamed for attacks including the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, as well as attacks in the Philippines.
Zulkarnaen had eluded capture for 18 years after being named a suspect in the October 2002 suicide bombings of Paddy’s Pub and the Sari Club in Bali. He was arrested last year in Lampung, a province on the southern tip of Sumatra. Police were tipped off to his hideout after interrogating several suspected militants arrested in earlier raids.
Zulkarnaen argued that he was a leader of the network’s military wing but was not involved in the operation of the Bali bombings, as he was focussed on organising his squad for sectarian conflicts in Ambon and Poso and in the southern Philippines.
During his trial, which began in September, other convicted militants in the 2002 Bali bombings, including Umar Patek and Ali Imron, who were sentenced to 20 years and life in jail, respectively, supported Zulkarnaen’s claim, saying he knew about the plot but did not play a role in its operation.
The sentencing demand was initially scheduled for November 24 but was postponed several times.
State prosecutor Agus Tri told the court that Zulkarnaen’s acts had resulted in deaths and injuries and that there was no reason for leniency.
“The defendant was involved in the Bali bombings plan,” he told the court. “He also instructed his group’s special forces led by him to save the militant group’s assets, including weapons nd explosives.”
Police previously said Zulkarnaen masterminded attacks that occurred simultaneously in many Indonesian regions on holidays including New Year’s Eve in 2000 that killed more than 20 people. He was also the mastermind of a bomb attack on the official residence of the Philippine ambassador in Jakarta in 2000 that killed two people, and the architect of sectarian conflict in Ambon and Poso from 1998 to 2000.
Zulkarnaen, a biologist who was among the first Indonesian militants to go to Afghanistan in the 80s for training, was an instructor at a military academy there for seven years, Indonesian police said.
Since May 2005, Zulkarnaen has been listed on an al-Qaeda sanctions list by the United Nations (UN) Security Council for being associated with Osama bin Laden or the Taleban.
The Security Council said that Zulkarnaen, who became an expert in sabotage, 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’s network.
It said that Zulkarnaen led a squad of fighters known as the Laskar Khos, or Special Force, whose members were recruited from among some 300 Indonesians who trained in Afghanistan and the Philippines.
Zulkarnaen was appointed the head of Camp Saddah, a military academy in the southern Philippines established for fighters from Southeast Asia, the Security Council said. He spent a decade at the camp training other militants.
He became operations chief for the militant group after the arrest of his predecessor, Encep Nurjaman, also known as Hambali, in Thailand in 2003.
The United States’ ‘Rewards for Justice’ programme had offered a bounty of up to USD5 million for his capture.
He was the only Indonesian on the list.