Sunday, May 8, 2011

End Is Nigh For Another Major Jihadi Figure, Abu Bakar Bashir

AFTER Osama bin Laden's death, Indonesia's jihadi movement is about to suffer another setback: a tough sentence for its leader Abu Bakar Bashir. The second emir of Jemaah Islamiah, Bashir was arrested in August last year for his alleged involvement in financing the Aceh terrorist training camp that had been uncovered six months earlier, and has been in jail ever since.

The prosecution is due to make its final statement today, and Bashir's verdict will be brought down in mid-June. The most damaging charge against him is that he mobilised people to carry out acts of terrorism. The death penalty can apply. Bashir is also accused of having ordered several officials of the organisation he heads, Jamaat Anshorut Tauhid, which translates inelegantly as Community of the Adherents of God's Unity, to raise money for the project.

It is unlikely that any Indonesian court will sentence to death a religious figure who is now 72 years old. Given his age, on the other hand, even a life sentence will be unnecessary. Others involved in the training project have received sentences of 10 to 12 years, and that would be enough to keep him behind bars until his death.

The Aceh training camp in fact turned out to be a fiasco. Its main achievement was to remain undetected for 12 months. But, once the police had stumbled on to its existence, the cost in dead and jailed jihadis was enormous. The story of this camp illustrates that Indonesian jihadis fail to understand just what a marginal force in Indonesian society they represent.

The man behind the project, Dulmatin, had returned to Indonesia from Mindanao in The Philippines in 2008. Dulmatin managed to live incognito for over a year in Banten province until he was shot and killed by the police. He sought out a jihadi called Lutfi Haidaroh, alias Ubaid, to put him touch with Bashir. Ubaid knew Bashir from shared time in jail, and was active in JAT. When Dulmatin and Bashir met near the latter's school in Solo, they reportedly discussed establishing a camp in a remote, mountainous district in Aceh, to train recruits in the military arts, and develop the area as a secure base that would gain widespread local support and expand so that eventually Indonesia would become an Islamic state.

As a result, Bashir allegedly began contacting his JAT subordinates to start making or collecting donations to fund the camp. Ubaid was the bag man who took the money to Jakarta. The police discovered that, at a meeting of supporters in North Sumatra in June 2009, Bashir argued for the creation of a territorial base, however small, that would become the core of a growing, armed movement to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state. If this is true, it suggests that there was a genuine meeting of minds between Dulmatin and Bashir. But this led to Bashir's undoing, and to Dulmatin's death.

Involving himself with Dulmatin was the rashest act of Bashir's career. Hitherto, he had usually behaved craftily in pursuing his goals. He always denied his role in JI or indeed JI's existence, yet accepted the post of emir of the provocatively named al-Qa'ida in Aceh Organisation. He must somehow have believed the Aceh project would succeed.

Bashir knows the Indonesian judicial system. This time around, however, he's handled his defence badly. Bashir and his lawyers have often boycotted court sessions, but the only result has been that his judges cannot pretend that he has behaved co-operatively in court. This will rob them of an argument to lighten his sentence.

On one day in court, Bashir described all Indonesian presidents, including Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as "infidels" for not implementing Islamic law. Bashir has claimed that military training in preparation for defending the faith is justified by Islamic law.

It hasn't helped Bashir that none of his JAT associates have withdrawn in court the statements they made to police affirming that Bashir was a major financial backer of the training camp project. His denials have therefore had no credibility.

Why haven't these acolytes tried to protect him? Sources close to Ubaid in particular have told me that he and his friends have become disillusioned with Bashir because he insists on denying what they were seeking to achieve.

To save himself, Bashir has undermined the legitimacy of their jihad.

Bashir still remains the central icon of radical Islam in Indonesia. A harsh sentence will therefore undoubtedly evoke calls for revenge. There could even be attacks on his judges. There are enough young jihadis in Indonesia to continue the vengeful struggle against the "infidel" Indonesian state and its foreign backers, even if the grandfather of Indonesian jihadism stays in jail for the term of his natural life. By Ken Ward former senior Indonesia analyst at the Office of National Assessments

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