Noordin Top: Martyr or Murderer?

by Chris Lundry

Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Noordin M. Top, who was responsible for multiple bombings in Indonesia and who is thought to have played a role in the 2002 Bali Bombings, is back in the news. He was killed almost three years ago in Central Java by Densus 88, the Indonesian anti-terrorism police force. He had risen to the top of Jemaah Islamiyah, and had announced the formation of a new branch, Tandzim al Qo’idah Indonesia, which promised to continue to carry out bomb attacks. Others in JI had argued to revisit the tactic over the unpopularity of killing fellow Muslims.

After his death, extremist sites were quiet. This is very unusual, as extremists usually waste no time in declaring one of their own a martyr. We argued that this silence was at least in part because of a smear campaign by the Indonesian government, which spread virally and portrayed Noordin Top as a hypocritical bi- or homosexual.

Putri Munawaroh, widow of slain extremist Adib, a colleague of Nordin Top.

After nearly three years of quiet, however, Voice of al Islam had a headline yesterday that read “This is the Story of the Martyr Noordin Top, Never Before Revealed.”  The story was an interview with Putri Munawaroh, the wife of another extremist killed that day. During her trial, she claimed she had no idea who she was helping to shelter, but rather she was simply obeying her husband. She was sentenced to three years in prison, where she gave birth to a son (she was pregnant at the time of the attack). Given a three-month remission, she was recently freed.

Her story is simply a recounting of the events of the killing of the terrorists. Her husband shielded her body and was killed; she was arrested and taken to a hospital by the police; she served her time in prison. There is nothing particularly interesting about the story – except for the comments.

“He’s really a martyr?” asks commenter th3cl41. “A martyr is like the martyr friends of the Prophet Mohammad of early times, not jihad based on random bombings.”

“Study again the laws about martyr bombings,” advises Hang Tuah in response.

“Insya Allah, he’s not a martyr,” posted Koko Zhang.

“The murderer of our brothers who are also Muslims is worthy to be called a martyr?” asked R_Gusta.

“WORTHY, BRO,” screamed back Hang Tuah. “THEY ARE MONOTHEISTS AND JIHADIS… THE ONES WHO ARE NOT WORTHY TO ACCEPT ISLAM BUT ARE NOT ACCEPTING OF MONOTHEISM STILL SUPPORT IDOLOTRY TODAY, MERITORIOUS DEEDS ARE WASTED.”

“Killing Muslims without the right to do so!!! This is martyrdom??” responded The Sign.

The comments go back and forth 85 times (at the time of this writing) on part one of the story, and 17 on part two. Some point to the Qur’an to justify killing innocent civilians, others point to the Qur’an to show how Noordin Top’s actions were evil. Some argue that it is not proper for Voice of al Islam to declare Noordin Top a martyr; only Allah can do so.

The comments reflect the debate that caused a split in Jemaah Islamiyah, with one side advocating continued bombings and accepting civilian, Muslim casualties, and the other advocating strikes against single victims, such as police officers.

Voice of al-Islam is sympathetic to extremist Islamism, but it has a wider audience, and reports on other Islam-oriented news. Unlike strictly extremist sites, such as ar Rahmah, the make-up of its audience allows for this kind of contentious back-and-forth about the meaning of martyrdom and the role of terrorist attacks in Islam. And in this case it’s clear: there are still many people who are unwilling to accept a terrorist killer as a martyr.