News from Indonesia: Basyir charged with supporting Aceh terrorist camp

by Chris Lundry

Indonesian police have charged Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Basyir with supporting terrorism for his role in the the Jemaah Islamiyah training camp in Aceh. He has been accused of participating in planning and funding the project and ordering others to commit terrorist acts, and police reported finding progress reports and videos from the camp.

The training camp, led by Javanese who came to Aceh thinking they would find support, was broken up in February 2010. Its members were either arrested or killed by police (CSC blog post on the camp here).

Police arrested Basyir on August 9, but after seven days — the time allowed by Indonesian law for detention without charges — they requested and were granted a 40-day extension. Now that charges have been filed, the police are weighing whether to release him or continue to detain him until the trial begins. Baysir is old and frail, and police may assume that he would pose a minimal risk for flight.

Basyir served two brief jail terms for his involvement in the bombings of Christian churches in 2000 and for his role in the 2002 Bali bombing and the 2003 attack on the Marriott hotel. In these trials, police were unable to make the most serious charges stick, and Basyir served relatively brief jail sentences. Indonesian media reports over the new charges, however, give detailed information regarding, for example, money transfers from Basyir to the Aceh group (such as this English language story in the Jakarta Post), which may indicate that the police have enough evidence to convict Basyir on more serious charges this time.

As is to be expected, extremist blogs and web sites jumped to his defense. Some argued that his arrest was engineered by the US government. A hacker calling himself Ashaburayatisud posted a defense of Abu Bakar Basyir and Mohammad Jibriel,  disrupting several web sites (including the official government site for the province of East Kalimantan; a list is included here). As of this writing, about half of the sites have returned to normal. Mohammad Jibriel was sentenced to five years in prison for supporting the July 2009 Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings.

The hacked web pages demand: “Free them, hey you enemies of Allah!” Followers of “human law” such as democracy, the Indonesian Constitution, and Pancasila — Indonesia’s state ideology — are condemned to hell as non-believers, polytheists, and godless. In an oddly polite twist, the hacker also promised that he did not damage any of the sites’ important information.

A “Free ABB” website has also emerged (http://freeabb.com/), as well as a facebook page (http://facebook.com/free.abb), which is ironic considering Islamists’ condemnations of Facebook for promoting “free sex.” Leaders of other Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front and Jamaat Ansharut Tawhid (a group Basyir co-founded), have also made statements condemning the arrest. Basyir’s pesantren (Islamic boarding school) al Mukmin posted a statement lamenting the arrest, and promised that it will not disrupt the pesantren’s activities.

Islamists claimed a minor victory, however, by declaring that their prayers had been answered and that Police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri fell ill because of the arrest of Basyir.

Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, issued a statement supporting the arrest.

The announcement of charges and the early indications of evidence bode well for the police and Indonesian governmnet’s case. Indonesia was embarassed by the inability to make charges against Basyir stick in his earlier trials, and was criticized by other governments, notably Australia and the United States. It would be another embarassment should Basyir be able to elude these latest charges. If convicted, however, it would be a significant victory for Indonesia’s anti-terrorism efforts.