Indonesia arrests suspected Jemaah Islamiyah leader on the run since Bali bombings

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Suspected bomb maker Zulkarnaen arrested in a raid at a house on Sumatra island

The 2002 Bali bombings killed 202 people
The 2002 Bali bombings killed 202 people. Zulkarnaen is suspected of being involved in the making of bombs used in the series of attacks on the Indonesian tourist island. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP
The 2002 Bali bombings killed 202 people. Zulkarnaen is suspected of being involved in the making of bombs used in the series of attacks on the Indonesian tourist island. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP
Associated Press

Last modified on Sat 12 Dec 2020 23.29 EST

Indonesian police have arrested a man believed to be the military leader of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah network who has eluded capture since 2003, and is suspected of being involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, authorities said Saturday.

Aris Sumarsono, known as Zulkarnaen, was arrested late Thursday by counterterrorism police without resistance in a raid at a house in East Lampung district on Sumatra island, said national police spokesperson Ahmad Ramadhan.

Zulkarnaen is suspected of being involved in the making of bombs used in a series of attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists including 88 Australians, and a 2003 attack on the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, that killed 12, Ramadhan said.

He said Zulkarnaen, a biologist who was among the first Indonesian militants to go to Afghanistan for training, is also accused of harbouring Upik Lawanga, another bomb maker and a key Jemaah Islamiyah member. Lawanga was arrested by counterterrorism police in Lampung last week. He had eluded capture since 2005 after being named as a suspect in an attack that killed more than 20 people at a market in Poso, known as a hotbed of Islamic militancy on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island.

“He is in custody and being questioned by investigators,” Ramadhan said of Zulkarnaen, adding that police are still conducting an investigation at his house in Lampung.

Police said they were tipped off to Zulkarnaen’s location in raids after interrogating several suspected militants arrested late last month.

Since May 2005, Zulkarnaen has been listed on an al-Qaida sanctions list by the UN security council for being associated with Osama bin Laden or the Taliban. The security council said that Zulkarnaen was one of al-Qaida’s representatives in south-east Asia and one of the few people in Indonesia who had had direct contact with Bin Laden’s network.

It said that Zulkarnaen led a squad of fighters known as the Laskar Khos, or Special Force, whose members were recruited from among some 300 Indonesians who trained in Afghanistan and the Philippines.

He became operations chief for Jemaah Islamiyah after the arrest of his predecessor, Encep Nurjaman, also known as Hambali, in Thailand in 2003.

In the following decade, Indonesian security forces crushed the Jemaah Islamiyah network, supported by the US and Australia, killing leaders and bomb makers and arresting hundreds of militants. But a new threat has emerged in the past several years from Islamic State group sympathisers, including Indonesians who travelled to the Middle East to fight with Islamic State.

The attacks on Bali that occurred on 12 October 2002 killed people from 21 countries, including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesian, 28 Britons and seven Americans. A suicide bomber blew himself up inside Paddy’s Bar in the Kuta district of the island, killing many instantly and forcing others to run outside. Another suicide bomber detonated a car bomb on the street in front of the Sari Club, which was across from Paddy’s Bar. An additional bomb was detonated in front of the US consulate in Denpasar.