JAKARTA: A former commander of a militant group linked to the 2002 Bali bombings was sentenced to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges by an Indonesian court on Wednesday.
Arif Sunarso, known as Zulkarnaen, was a commander of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, a Southeast Asian group with ties to Al-Qaeda.
The group was blamed for bomb attacks on two nightclubs that killed 202 people on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali in 2002.
Zulkarnaen was arrested in December 2020 after evading capture for 18 years.
In its verdict on Wednesday, the East Jakarta District Court said the 58-year-old was “proven guilty of committing terrorism and is sentenced to 15 years behind bars.”
Zulkarnaen was convicted of withholding information and sheltering another militant. The sentencing did not relate directly to the 2002 attacks.
Indonesian prosecutors had demanded a life sentence for Zulkarnaen, describing him as a “key asset” for JI due to his experience in training militants in Afghanistan and the Philippines.
Zulkarnaen became the group’s operations chief following the arrest of his predecessor, Encep Nurjaman, known as Hambali, in Thailand in 2003.
During his trial, which began last September, Zulkarnaen said that he had led JI’s military wing but was not involved in the Bali bombings.
Asludin Hatjani, Zulkarnaen’s defense lawyer, told Arab News that he believed the sentence was disproportionately severe.
“Based on the evidence presented in the trial, the 15-year sentence is too long,” Hatjani said. “In the verdict, (Zulkarnaen) was not convicted because of the Bali bombing case, but rather his involvement as a member of JI, because JI is an illegal organization.”
However, Thiolina Marpaung, a survivor of the 2002 attack, said the verdict came as a disappointment.
“He should have been given life in prison,” Marpaung said. “He spent 18 years as a fugitive and didn’t surrender of his own accord. That means he still had bad intentions.”
Nasir Abbas, a former senior member of JI who is working with the Indonesian government on deradicalization programs, said it was important that Zulkarnaen be deradicalized as he was still a respected figure among JI militants. “It’s important to deradicalize him before he is allowed to mingle with other terrorism convicts or general prisoners,” Abbas told Arab News.
Noor Huda Ismail, a former member of the militant group Darul Islam and now an expert on militancy and deradicalization, said Zulkarnaen’s case demonstrates JI’s vast network and its determination to protect key members.
"JI threat will not go away with this verdict," he added.