Indonesian police arrest suspected leader of group behind Bali bombing

(The Guardian) – Indonesian police say they have arrested the leader of Al Qaeda-linked extremist network Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which carried out the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.

Para Wijayanto was detained by counterterrorism police with his wife on Saturday at a hotel in Bekasi, a city on the outskirts of the capital Jakarta, the national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.

Prasetyo said Wijayanto 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 and a 2004 attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta, that killed nine.

The group was also blamed for the 2003 car bombing at the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

Prasetyo said Wijayanto, a civil engineer who received military training at a jihadi camp in the southern Philippines in 2000, was also involved in the sectarian conflict in Poso, known as a hotbed of Islamic militancy on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island.

Since 2013, Wijayanto also has recruited and trained members of Jemaah Islamiyah’s military wing, sending some to Syria to fight with extremist groups, according to Prasetyo.

“He was appointed as amir (leader) of Jemaah Islamiyah because of his capability and track record as an Islamic fighter,” he said.

Prasetyo said Wijayanto was also suspected in sending at least six batches of Indonesians abroad to fight in Syria, and provided support to militants in the terrorism hotspot of Poso on Sulawesi island.

A convicted militant who now collaborates with Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency, Sofyan Tsauri, said Wijayanto became leader of Jemaah Islamiyah in 2007, replacing another militant, Zarkasih, who was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Jemaah Islamiyah was banned by an Indonesian court in 2008. It was significantly weakened but not obliterated by a sustained crackdown on militants by Indonesia’s counterterrorism police with US and Australian support.

“In fact, Jemaah Islamiyah never vanished,” said Tsauri.

Islamic State group attacks abroad have inspired a new generation of Indonesian militants despite the sustained crackdown on extremists.

In May last year, two families carried out suicide bombings at churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, killing a dozen people.