On August 9, 2010, Abu Bakar Bashir, the head of Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) and the alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiya (JI), was arrested for involvement in terrorist activities. His arrest followed the discovery of a terrorist training camp in Aceh Province and the detention of three senior members of JAT.[1] Bashir is now on extended remand until December 13, 2010, while the prosecution prepares to indict him for his role in the Aceh camp.[2] Police claim to have strong evidence based on testimonies, documents, and videos that link Bashir to terrorist activity in the camp. Bashir is also accused of being the amir or spiritual leader of the cross organizational jihadist coalition known as al-Qa`ida Serambi Mekkah in Aceh.[3]

Bashir’s latest arrest has a number of implications. Many Indonesians think that the arrest is an attempt by authorities to restrict freedom of speech and religion in the country. The Indonesian government, for example, has already prosecuted Bashir on two previous occasions. In October 2002, Bashir was arrested for his alleged involvement in the Christmas Eve bombings of 2000 and a conspiracy to kill President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Authorities, however, were only able to convict and sentence Bashir on immigration violations. On the day of his prison release on April 30, 2004, he was arrested again, this time for involvement in the Bali bombings of October 2002 and the Marriott Hotel bombings of August 2003. He was found guilty of conspiracy, but not direct involvement in the plots, and was only sentenced to 30 months in prison. He was released on June 14, 2006 after a four month reduction in sentence.[4] It is likely that the coming trial of Bashir will once again test Indonesia’s frail anti-terrorism legal regime. Analysts are already concerned that the government does not have enough evidence to convict Bashir of the latest charges.

This article details the prosecution’s allegations against Bashir, while also showing why his conviction will be difficult to achieve under Indonesia’s current anti-terrorism legislation.

Bashir’s Role in Terrorist Training in Aceh
On September 17, 2008, Bashir formed JAT after officially resigning from Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI) in July 2008.[5] He accused MMI’s leadership of being “un-Islamic” because it favored democracy over Shari`a (Islamic law).[6] JAT, which literally means the defender of the oneness of God, is primarily supported by former MMI members aligned to Bashir. Bashir claimed that his new organization would implement true Islamic teachings.[7] Authorities believe that JAT organized members from JI, Darul Islam, the Action Committee for Crisis Response (KOMPAK), and Aceh’s Islamic Defender Front (FPI) to create a new coalition called al-Qa`ida Serambi Mekkah.

The police account of Bashir’s role in the Aceh camp is based on the confession of Ubeid (also known as Luthfi Haidaroh), who was arrested in Medan on April 12, 2010.[8] Ubeid was an acquaintance of Noordin Mohamed Top and was involved in several bombings.[9] He was arrested in July 2004, sentenced to prison, and was released in 2007. He met Bashir during his imprisonment in Cipinang Prison where he accepted Bashir as his mentor.[10] Later, Ubeid joined JAT as a member of its executive council.

Based on Ubeid’s statements, Bashir’s involvement in the training camp began in February 2009 when Ubeid asked Bashir to meet Dulmatin, another JI acquaintance.[11] Dulmatin was hiding out with the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines after having fled Indonesia following the Bali bombings of October 2002, but he slipped back into Indonesia in 2009 without the knowledge of the Indonesian and Philippine governments.[12] Ubeid and Dulmatin supposedly met Bashir at a house in Ngruki, at which time Bashir allegedly gave his consent to conduct military training in Aceh and asked Dulmatin to work with Abu Tholut.[13] Abu Tholut was a former regional commander of JI and a military trainer at JI’s Hudaibiyah camp in the Philippines.[14] Subsequently, Abu Tholut was appointed as a member of JAT’s executive council.[15] Bashir also allegedly appointed Dulmatin as the field commander of the Aceh camp.[16]

Ubeid told police that in mid-2009 he visited Bashir to seek financial assistance for the camp. Bashir reportedly provided $558 and asked Ubeid to meet with Thoib, JAT’s treasurer, who then provided Ubeid $1,116.[17] In November 2009, Bashir allegedly gave $20,000 and $5,000 while Thoib gave another $2,287 to Ubeid.[18] Dulmatin also received $1,116 from Thoib in early 2010. Moreover, some of JAT’s Darul Islam members provided financial assistance as well for the Aceh training camp.[19]

Besides financial assistance, Bashir is believed to have named the training camp in Aceh as Tandzim al-Qa`ida Serambi Mekkah.[20] He also allegedly designed an organizational structure that consisted of three sub-structures (qadi) led respectively by Dulmatin, Abu Yusuf and Ardi. Each qadi had 10 members.[21] Bashir reportedly received progress reports, including a number of videos, from the training coordinator in Aceh.[22] He allegedly visited the Aceh camp to monitor the training.

The Challenges of Convicting Bashir
Bashir now faces five counts of charges involving terrorism, with a maximum sentence of life in prison or the death penalty.[23] The prosecution is preparing to charge Bashir under multiple sections of the 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law. One of the main thrusts of the charges is proving that Bashir is an “intellectual actor” under section 14 of the law that refers to any person who plans and/or incites another to commit acts of terrorism. He will also be charged under section 13 with sub-sections a, b, and c that covers the provision of money or other assets for acts of terrorism, harboring a perpetrator of a terrorist act, and hiding information on any act of terrorism, respectively. Although the charges against Bashir appear formidable, there are a number of pitfalls that could result in an unsuccessful conviction, which would further serve to highlight the weaknesses in Indonesia’s legal regime against terrorism.

First, except for what Ubeid told the police, there does not appear to be irrefutable evidence proving Bashir’s involvement in the Aceh camp.[24] Moreover, Ubeid’s statement to the police has to be sustained in judicial proceedings to be considered acceptable evidence. There is a possibility that Ubeid will change his statement during court proceedings. In Bashir’s second trial, Ali Imron—one of the accused—changed his statement and refused to recognize Bashir as the leader of JI.[25] The court also did not accept video conference testimony from a Singapore detainee who categorically recognized Bashir as the leader of JI.

Moreover, in his public statements, Bashir has claimed to be against violent jihad. His statements, however, appear more ambivalent. For example, in an interview in 2005 about the perpetrators of the Bali bombings, Bashir said,

“I call those who carried out these actions all mujahid. They all had a good intention (niat), that is, jihad in Allah’s way…They are right that America is the proper target because America fights Islam. So in terms of their objectives, they are right, and the target of their attacks was right also. But their calculations are debatable. My view is that we should do bombings in conflict areas (war zones) not in peace areas. We have to target the place of the enemy, not countries where many Muslims live.”[26]

In another interview after his recent arrest, Bashir maintained that irrespective of the means, i’dad (preparation for jihad) is right for the implementation of Shari`a, although the use of weapons could be morally indefensible.[27]

Bashir’s supporters also claim that the training camp in Aceh was designed to prepare mujahidin to go to conflict zones such as Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue that if there was a plan to attack targets in Indonesia, their leader was unaware of it. The same has been the case with JAT, which, as an organization, has maintained a non-violent stance in public. In a statement, Bashir’s successor in JAT, Muhammad Achwan, maintained,

“We have actually been under physical attack from the police’s anti-terror squad Detachment 88. Those who can fight back are permitted to use violence as long as they have the necessary resources and capabilities. For those who do not yet have the necessary resources to wage violent confrontation, they should wait and remain patient as their time will come. The battle still has a long way to go. Islam is not demanding [that] we win immediately, but fight and act regardless of the result.”[28]

Therefore, both individually and as the leader of JAT, there could be difficulties in implicating Bashir as an “intellectual actor” supporting terrorist activities.

Second, police claim to have material evidence linking Bashir to the Aceh camp, such as proof of bank account transfers and recorded telephone conversations. Ubeid, however, said that the money was physically transferred in cash and not through bank wires.[29] If this is true, the prosecution will be unable to link Bashir’s finances to the training camp except to the extent substantiated by Ubeid’s testimony. In a previous case involving the hotel bombings in Jakarta in 2009, prosecutors failed to establish a direct link between the money given by an alleged Saudi financier, Ali Abdullah al-Khalaewi, and Syaifudin, the man who recruited the suicide bombers. This was largely due to the legal ambiguity in the Anti-Terrorism Law and Anti-Money Laundering Act, both of which also deal with terrorist financing. The acts are relatively vague about what constitutes employment of money for terrorist activity. This has resulted in myriad interpretations and subjective applications of the provisions of the act. Additionally, because JI and its offshoots such as JAT are not proscribed, it is not possible to criminalize funding these organizations.[30]

Third, proving that Bashir was the “intellectual actor” behind the training camp in Aceh will also depend on establishing, beyond doubt, his leadership in al-Qa`ida Serambi Mekkah. This appears to be an onerous task given the fact that the main accused collaborator—Dulmatin—was killed in a police raid in March 2010, and Abu Tholut is in hiding.[31] There do not appear to be any other witnesses who can testify to this allegation.

If the prosecution fails to prove Bashir’s involvement in the terrorist training camp in Aceh, he is sure to gain more sympathy from the broader public to support his lifelong accusation that the government is acting at the behest of the United States to restrict his “legitimate” religious activities. Unfortunately, if failure does occur, it will not be due to the incompetence of Indonesia’s counterterrorism units such as Detachment 88 and the police. By any account, their activities have been commendable in containing the threat of terrorism. Instead, the ultimate outcome will depend on the overall legal regime against terrorism that remains weak and debilitated in Indonesia. As a result, the field is wide open for extremists such as Bashir to continue with their activities unhindered.

Arabinda Acharya is Research Fellow and Head of Strategic Projects at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Mr. Arabinda is an author/coauthor of four books including Targeting Terrorist Financing: International Cooperation and New Regimes, Terrorist Threat in Southern Thailand: Jihad or Quest for Justice and Ethnic Identity and National Conflict in China. He has also published a number of articles and reviews in book chapters and  journals such as Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Harvard Asia Quarterly, Washington Quarterly, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and Journal of Money Laundering Control.

Fatima Astuti is Associate Research Fellow at the ICPVTR. Born in Indonesia, she has worked with several human rights organizations in Indonesia and continues to be involved in extensive field research, especially in respect of political violence and terrorism in the region.

[1] “Indonesian Police Allege Bashir Was Instrumental in Establishing Aceh Terror Group,” Jakarta Globe, August 11, 2010.

[2] “JAT: Perpanjang Penahanan Ba’asyir Berlebihan,” Viva News, August 17, 2010.

[3] “Court Told Indonesian Preacher Funded Militant Camp,” Agence France-Presse, October 28, 2010.

[4] “Ba’asyir Quits Jihad Fighters Group MMI,” Jakarta Post, August 5, 2008.

[5] MMI was established on August 7, 2000 with a mandate from the Indonesian Mujahidin Congress in Yogyakarta. The Congress, which lasted from August 5-7, 2000, attracted more than 1,800 participants from 24 provinces in Indonesia. MMI is a hard line umbrella organization that wants to implement Islamic law in Indonesia through legal and constitutional means. See “Mundur dari MMI, Bulan Ramadhan Ustad Ba’asyir Bentuk Organisasi Baru,” Era Muslim, August 8, 2008.

[6] Muhammad Haniff Hassan and Mohamed Redzuan Salleh, “Abu Bakar Bashir: Jihad or Tyranny of Leadership?” RSIS Commentaries, October 9, 2008.

[7] “Bashir Declares New Political Islamist Group,” Jakarta Post, September 17, 2008.

[8] “Lagi, Densus Bekuk Tiga Tersangka,” Radar Lampung, May 15, 2010.

[9] “Terrorism in Indonesia: Noordin’s Network,” International Crisis Group, May 5, 2006.

[10] “Indonesia: The Dark Side of Jama’ah Anshorut Tauhid,” International Crisis Group, July 6, 2010.

[11] Farouk Arnaz and Nurfika Osman, “Police Confident Bashir Won’t Escape Terror Charges Again,” Jakarta Globe, August 19, 2010.

[12] “Dulmatin Sudah Latih Perakit Bom,” Jambi Independent, March 11, 2010.

[13] “Ba’asyir’s Telling Telephone Call,” Tempo, August 18-24, 2010.

[14] “Exclusive: Terror Arrests Linked to Abu Bakar Bashir Organization,” Jakarta Globe, May 7, 2010.

[15] “Indonesia: The Dark Side of Jama’ah Anshorut Tauhid.”

[16] “Polisi Kantongi Video Ba’asyir Tinjau Latihan Teroris Aceh,” Tempo, August 11, 2010; “‘Evidence’ Links Bashir to Aceh Camp,” Straits Times, August 11, 2010. Dulmatin was shot dead during a police raid in Jakarta on March 9, 2010. For details, see “Bali Bomber Dulmatin Killed in Raid, Yudhoyono Said,” Bloomberg, March 10, 2010.

[17] “Ba’asyir’s Telling Telephone Call.”

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Indonesia: The Dark Side of Jama’ah Anshorut Tauhid.”

[20] “Ba’asyir’s Telling Telephone Call.”

[21] “The Amir’s Network,” Tempo, August 18-24, 2010.

[22] According to one report, a video could exist showing footage of Bashir watching training in the Aceh camp. Another report, however, says that the video was about training in Aceh which was sent to Bashir. See “Abu Bakar Ba’asyir Faces Life Imprisonment or Death,” Tempo, August 11, 2010; “Polisi Kantongi Video Ba’asyir Tinjau Latihan Teroris Aceh.”

[23] Ibid.

[24] It is not clear if there are other depositions from those arrested at the camp. Police have not mentioned if these contain any evidence about Bashir’s involvement. See “Polisi Kantongi Video Ba’asyir Tinjau Latihan Teroris Aceh.”

[25] “Ali Imron: Tidak ada Restu Ba’asyir untuk Mengebom Bali,” Detik News, January 20, 2005.

[26] This information is based on an interview with Bashir by Taufiq Andrie, whose questions were formulated by Scott Atran. For the document, visit www.sitemaker.umich.edu/satran/files/atranba_asyirinterview020905.pdf.

[27] “Ustadz Abu Bakar Bashir: America Wants Me Removed from Society,” September 5, 2010, available on various websites.

[28] “Violent Jihad is Tolerated for Those Who Have Resources: JAT leader,” Jakarta Post, August 27, 2010.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Arabinda Acharya and Fatima Astuti, “Chink in the Armour: Tightening Jakarta’s Counter Terrorist Financing Regime,” S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, July 2010. It is not exactly clear why the government has not banned JI, and it could be for political reasons.

[31] “Bali Bomber Dulmatin Killed in Raid, Yudhoyono Said,” Bloomberg, March 10, 2010.

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