Indonesia declares radical cleric a suspect in 2016 Jakarta attack

ISIS-linked cleric Aman Abdurrahman (hands raised) in a holding cell in Jakarta awaiting trial in 2010. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesian police have officially declared radical Islamic cleric Aman Abdurrahman a suspect and charged him with orchestrating the terrorist attack in Jakarta on Jan 14 last year, which left four bystanders dead.

The move marks a major breakthrough in the case, which up until last week, had largely revolved around the convictions of a handful of low-level militants, who played minor support roles in the attack.

"Aman was involved in the Thamrin attack," said police spokesman Setyo Wasisto, referring to Jalan M. H. Thamrin, the road where the attack took place. "He gave the directive, supported and guided it."

The police had, early in its investigations last year, fingered Aman for the attack, saying he had ordered his followers to mount the strike from prison, where he was serving a 10-year jail term for funding a Jemaah Islamiah paramilitary training camp in Aceh. The authorities found several mobile phones during an impromptu check, concealed inside Aman's cell following the Jan 14 attack.

Brigadier-General Setyo said Aman was picked by the police on Aug 12 and officially declared a suspect on Aug 18, after he was granted special remission from his jail sentence as part of Indonesia's Independence Day celebrations last week.

When asked if Aman, who is the leader of the Jemaah Ansharut Daulah militant group, will be taken to court to face charges, Brig-Gen Setyo said: "Yes, he will be brought to trial soon."

Besides his alleged role in last year's attack in the capital, Aman is also linked to several other terrorist attacks, including the twin suicide bombings in East Jakarta on May 23, which killed three policemen.

The prospect of Aman facing charges for the Jakarta attack was welcomed by counter-terrorism observers. But most say it is not expected to turn the tide in Indonesia's war on terror as pockets of militant cells, mostly with loose ties to ISIS and operating independently, still pose a threat.

"Aman is an ideologue... His role is more about inspiring the militants and connecting those operating in different places to work together on attack plans," said counter-terrorism analyst Taufik Andrie.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline Indonesia declares radical cleric a suspect in 2016 Jakarta attack. Subscribe