Indonesia president hopes arrest will cripple group accused of plotting terror attacks

By Ali Kotarumalos, AP
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Indonesian president hopes arrest cripples cell

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s president said he hopes the arrest of the country’s most-wanted terrorist suspect will help cripple a network accused of plotting a Mumbai-style attack targeting foreigners at luxury hotels and several high-profile assassinations.

However, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, reportedly a target of the plot, urged people to remain vigilant and report all suspicious movements.

The suspect, Abdullah Sunata, was led away in handcuffs with two aides, one of them an alleged expert bomb maker, after raids on their hide-out in Central Java province Wednesday. He is wanted, among other things, on suspicion of setting up a jihadi training camp in westernmost Aceh province and recruiting new members.

“We have successfully arrested Sunata and two other suspects,” national police spokesman Maj. Gen. Edward Aritonang told The Associated Press after their house in Cungkrungan, a village in Central Java province, was surrounded and searched. Police found a bomb in a backpack and several revolvers.

An earlier raid on a house in nearby Girimulya village also yielded explosives and weapons.

Police could not immediately confirm a report on Metro TV that documents discovered during one of the searches indicated the men were planning an attack on the Danish Embassy in Jakarta.

The Danish intelligence service has said that militant extremists in Muslim countries are still angry over the 2005 publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad.

One man, identified as Yuli Harsono, was killed in a shootout Wednesday with police.

Neighbors, angry to learn that a suspected terrorist had been living in their midst, warned Thursday that hundreds of people were ready to block any efforts to bury him in the local cemetery.

They said Harsono was a former soldier who spent two years in jail for stealing gunpowder from the military’s arsenal. After his return in 2005, he shut out neighbors and spent all his free time with outsiders, often discussing the Quran at his house, said one resident, Bayu Prastowo.

“We don’t want our village to be remembered as a terror nest,” said Pujianto, the village chief, who goes by one name. “We’ll ask his family to bury him somewhere else. If they refuse, we’re ready to block the burial.”

The country of 240 million has battled Islamist militants with links to the Southeast Asian network Jemaah Islamiyah since 2002, when extremists bombed a nightclub district on Bali island, killing 202 people, most of them foreign tourists. There have been three other major suicide bombings since then, the most recent targeting two luxury hotels in Jakarta a year ago, killing seven and injuring more than 50.

Though hundreds of suspected militants have been captured in a security crackdown in recent years, terrorists have proved resilient, with networks splintering and mutating.

Sunata’s new network, uncovered in February, was reportedly comprised of militants from several groups with ties to the Middle East and the Philippines. Authorities found a cache of M-16 assault rifles, revolvers and thousands of rounds of ammunition at the Aceh training camp. They also said they uncovered plans to launch Mumbai-style terror strikes and to kill Yudhoyono and other high-profile targets.

“The president hopes, with the arrest of Abdullah Sunata and others, all international links to Indonesian terrorist groups will be cut,” said Yudhoyono’s spokesman, Julian Aldrin Pasha.

Ken Conboy, a Jakarta-based expert on Southeast Asian terrorist groups, said Sunata’s arrest was significant, especially because several other top suspects have been killed in police raids, prompting experts to say valuable intelligence had been lost. Noordin Top, a bomb-making expert who was allegedly behind most of the major suicide bombings, and Dulmatin, also tied to the Aceh network, were both killed by police in the last year.

With their deaths, Sunata became the country’s most sought-after suspected terrorist.

“He’d be able to connect a lot of the dots about the Aceh operations,” from funding and training to potential targets, Conboy said. “What were these guys going to be used for?”

Sunata was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2006 for hiding Noordin, an expert bomb-maker who once headed Jemaah Islamiyah. He was released in April 2009 for good behavior, but reportedly returned to the terrorist network.

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