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Indonesia: Court Hands Down Death Sentence For Bali Bombings

  • Charles Recknagel

An Indonesian court today sentenced to death an Islamic militant for his part in last October's nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali. The sentence comes just two days after a similar attack on a hotel in Jakarta that showed terrorist groups in Indonesia remain capable of deadly attacks on foreigners.

Prague, 7 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- For the families of the victims of last October's Bali bombings, today's sentencing of one of the suspects is a mixed victory.

An Indonesian court sentenced Muslim militant Amrozi bin Nurhasyim to death for helping to carry out a bombing attack which destroyed two nightclubs on the holiday island, killing 202 people.

Judge I Made Karna announced the decision in a Bali court this way:

"The panel of judges declares that the defendant, Amrozi, has been found guilty of criminal acts in carrying out terrorist crimes and the sentence for defendant Amrozi is death."

Amrozi had admitted to buying a minivan that was turned into a massive car bomb for the deadliest terrorist strike since the 11 September suicide bombings in the United States.

The 40-year-old mechanic is just one of more than 30 suspects in the Bali bombings, which also included a blast near the island's U.S. consulate that caused no casualties. But his unrepentant manner in court, and the fact that he is the first to be punished, have made him the focal point of media attention to the case.

Amrozi -- who is not from predominantly Hindu Bali but from the nearby majority Muslim island of Java -- has been dubbed "the smiling bomber" by the press because of his insistence on laughing and joking in court. As the sentence was announced today he grinned, turned to the cameras to give a double thumbs up and appeared utterly pleased with what he had done.

Entering the court today, he shouted "Burn, burn the Jews" and "God is Great" in Arabic before taking his seat for the sentencing. He once famously said during testimony that "whites" deserved to die in the Bali attack -- many of whose victims were young Australian and European tourists.

Amrozi and his accomplices are suspected of belonging to a regional militant Muslim network, Jemaah Islamiah, which has links to Al-Qaeda. The head of Jemaah Islamiah, 64-year-old Abu Bakar Bashir, is currently on trial on a treason charge unrelated to the Bali bombings.

It is unclear whether Amrozi will be able to appeal today's death sentence. His lawyers immediately said they will request an appeal on the grounds Amrozi provided the van and chemicals used in the bombings but did not carry out the attack himself.

Any appeals process in Indonesia is reported to ordinarily drag on for years, ending with a final request for clemency to the president. Indonesia's president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is reported to be a strong supporter of the death penalty and earlier this year rejected six clemency requests from prisoners on death row.

But if the families of the victims of the Bali attack now may feel justice is being done with the sentencing of the first of the bombers, a new terrorist strike this week showed that such attacks are far from ending in Indonesia.

Indonesian police say that the bombing of the U.S.-owned Marriott hotel in Jakarta on 5 August, which killed at least 10 people, could be the work of the same network responsible for the Bali explosions.

Investigators told reporters today that the bomb ingredients and the methods used were similar in both instances and that the Marriott was in an area identified as a potential target in documents seized last month from alleged members of Jemaah Islamiah.

Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said yesterday that the timing of the Jakarta bombing may be linked to the sentencing of the first Bali bomber and warned that more attacks may follow.

"Realizing our vulnerabilities, what is going now in Indonesia -- the court, the trial of the perpetrators of the Bali bombings and other unique conditions -- I think Indonesia is fully realizing we will do more [in security matters] in the future," he said. "Responding to the latest terrorist attack here in Jakarta, the government has issued specific steps to be taken by all of us -- firstly, the intensification of the local security in public buildings, the government offices, and all public facilities in Indonesia."

The Australian government -- which helped in the police investigation of the Bali bombings -- also warned yesterday that more attacks are likely. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said new intelligence suggests Indonesia and particularly central Jakarta could be hit by more bombings in the coming days. Australia has warned its citizens not to go to Indonesia since the Bali attacks of last year.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard welcomed today's guilty verdict in the Bali attack and said his government, which is opposed to the death penalty, would not appeal for Indonesia to commute the sentence.

This week's attack on the Marriott -- and today's sentencing of Amrozi to the maximum punishment -- underline the fact that both the terrorist groups and Jakarta are now engaged in a stubborn war of attrition that could drag on for years.

The past decade has seen militant Muslim terrorist groups -- which espouse a utopian vision of Islamic-based egalitarianism -- gain ground in Indonesia amid economic troubles, ethnic divisions, charges of government corruption, and resentment of the country's powerful military establishment.

Many of the militant groups' leaders are reported to have trained in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets and subsequently embraced the anti-Western doctrine of Al-Qaeda. In recent years, the focus of their activities has moved from communal violence in Indonesia -- an overwhelmingly Muslim country with minority Hindu and Christian communities -- to targeting foreigners. Militant leaders have called for the creation of a regional Islamic state and labeled Westerners as agents of corruption.