Last of four top Bali bombing suspects gets death sentence

Friday, October 3, 2003

BALI, Indonesia -- The last of four main suspects in the deadly nightclub bombings on Indonesia's Bali island was convicted Thursday and sentenced to death by firing squad.

The verdict is the latest sign that Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, is serious about confronting Islamic militancy. Death sentences in Indonesia are rare, but are allowed under an anti-terror law adopted after last year's bombings on Bali, which killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.

Ali Ghufron, an Afghan-trained militant who bragged of his friendship with Osama bin Laden, was "proven guilty of planning a terrorist action ... and we the judges sentence him to death," Judge Cokorda Rai Suamba said.

Two other key Bali defendants -- Samudra and Amrozi bin Nurhasyhim -- have received death sentences and a third -- Ali Imron -- was given life in prison for the Oct. 12, 2002, attacks.

Twelve other defendants have received prison terms ranging from seven to 16 years.

Ghufron, alias Mukhlas, reacted calmly to the ruling and told the judges that he would appeal. "The verdict is not in line with Islamic teachings," he said.

During the trial, Ghufron admitted to being the operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah -- the al-Qaida-linked extremist group accused in the Bali bombings. He has also confessed that he traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s and fought alongside bin Laden.

Ghufron was charged with overseeing planning meetings for the near-simultaneous bombings of two nightclubs and the U.S. consulate, attacks which shattered the image of Bali as a tranquil island.

He has shown no remorse for the bombings and, like other Bali suspects, used court appearances to rage against the United States. He called President Bush a terrorist and said the Bali blasts were carried out to avenge the suffering of Muslims at the hands of America and Israel.

Before the Bali bombings, little was known about Jemaah Islamiyah, which allegedly wants to establish an Islamic state across Southeast Asia.

But the Bali defendants have provided authorities with a detailed portrait of a loosely organized group that operates a series of independent cells. The attack showed that Jemaah Islamiyah had strong links to bin Laden, has come to depend on suicide attacks and chose the island of Bali -- a favorite destination for foreign tourists -- because it wanted to punish the West.

Ghufron, along with his brothers Amrozi and Ali Imron, are working class Muslims from rural Indonesia. They, along with Samudra, admitted their anti-Western views were shaped in Islamic boarding schools and on the battlefields of Afghanistan and later the Maluku islands.

The verdict brought a mixed reaction from the small audience in the courtroom, made up mostly of government officials and a handful of Australian survivors. "Mukhlas and the other terrorists are the lowest form of life," said Ashley Stenyer of Victoria, Australia, who was in one of the clubs when it was bombed.

"But I don't think he should have got the death penalty. I want to see all these defendants in jail for the rest of their lives," Stenyer said. Death sentences in Indonesia are carried out by a firing squad.

Many Indonesians have accepted these verdicts, in the face of damning evidence including confessions from the four defendants.

"We don't compromise with terrorists," said H.M. Din Syamsuddin of Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim group. "The Bali bombers have killed innocent people. They've confessed to committing terrorist actions so they deserve the most severe punishment. Their actions are a reflection of impatience and hopelessness."

Jemaah Islamiyah also is accused of directing the Aug. 5 car bombing of a U.S.-owned hotel in Jakarta. The attack killed 12 people. At least a dozen suspects have been arrested but none has been formally charged.

The group's alleged commander, Riduan Isamuddin Hambali, was captured last month in Thailand and is now in U.S. custody. Its alleged spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, was sentenced last month to four years in prison for sedition but was acquitted of heading Jemaah Islamiyah.

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