Indonesian activist sentenced to life in 2005 bombing

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – An Indonesian court on Wednesday sentenced an Islamist activist who escaped capture for 16 years to life in prison after convicting him of fabricating bombs used in an attack on a market in 2005 that killed 22 people.

Upik Lawanga, known as the “professor,” is a key member of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network, which the United States has called a terrorist group. He is widely blamed for the attacks, including the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, as well as the attacks in the Philippines.

East Jakarta District Court found Lawanga, 43, guilty of involvement in the May 28, 2005 attack at Tentena market in Poso district that killed 22 people and injured 91 others, mostly Christians. . Conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Poso, in the province of Central Sulawesi, killed at least 1,000 people from 1998 to 2002.

Lawanga was also accused of fabricating bombs used in a 2004 passenger minibus attack that killed six people and a 2006 flashlight attack that killed a Christian woman.

“What the accused has done is a crime against humanity which has left deep wounds, trauma and grief on the families of the victims,” ​​said Presiding Judge Sutikna, who bears a unique name.

Lawanga said he would appeal the decision. He argued in court that he helped make the bombs but did not carry out the attacks, saying he did not know how they would be used. He said he only obeyed orders from other senior members of the group to assemble bombs to avenge Christians for the slaughter of Muslims at an Islamic boarding school during a sectarian conflict in May 2000.

He said his motive was the death of relatives and friends in the Islamic-Christian conflict and the burning of mosques and his brother’s house.

Other activists said Lawanga was nicknamed the “professor” because of his ability to make bombs and guns. They described him as an important figure because of his expertise.

Lawanga said he joined Jemaah Islamiyah in Poso in 2002 and learned how to assemble bombs from Azahari bin Husin, a Malaysian bomb-making mastermind who was killed in a police raid in Indonesia in 2005.

Lawanga left Poso after the 2005 terrorist attacks and lived with his wife and children in Lampung as a duck farmer.

The trial began in early September and was held at bay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawanga, real name Taufiq Bulaga, has become one of the country’s most wanted activists after being cited as a suspect in the Tentena market attack. He was arrested last year in the same town in the south of the island of Sumatra where Zulkarnaen, believed to be the military leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah network, was arrested by anti-terrorism police a week later. Zulkarnaen had been on the police wanted list for 18 years.

Police, who learned of their hiding place after questioning several activists arrested earlier, found a bunker in Lawanga’s house with homemade guns and explosive materials.

The two men were tried separately by the same court.

An Indonesian court banned Jemaah Islamiyah in 2008, and a sustained crackdown by security forces with backing from the United States and Australia has helped weaken the militant network.

Militant attacks on foreigners in Indonesia have largely been replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, primarily police and security forces, inspired by ISIS’s tactics abroad.

The Indonesian police counterterrorism unit, known as Densus 88, has arrested more than 500 suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah over the past two years, including a member of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, the highest Islamic body in the country. country, which was arrested last month.

Authorities estimate that the group has more than 6,000 members.

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