Radical Islamic cleric charged with inciting terror attacks

He is said to have preached about attacking govt bodies like the police, and ordered the 2016 Jakarta attack

Aman Abdurrahman being guarded by police officers on his way to the courtroom yesterday. He faces the death penalty if found guilty of the various charges against him.
Aman Abdurrahman being guarded by police officers on his way to the courtroom yesterday. He faces the death penalty if found guilty of the various charges against him. PHOTO: REUTERS

Radical Islamic cleric Aman Abdurrahman faces the death penalty after being charged yesterday with inciting others to commit various terror attacks in Indonesia, including an attack in Jakarta in 2016 that left four bystanders dead.

"The defendant incited others to commit various terror acts," Prosecutor Anita Dewayani told reporters.

She was referring to the Jakarta attack in January 2016 as well as incidents that took place in end-2016 and last year - the Samarinda church bombing, Kampung Melayu suicide bombing, Medan police-post attack, and the Bima police shootings.

At 8.30am local time (9.30 am Singapore time) yesterday, Aman, 46, arrived at the South Jakarta District Court guarded by armed anti-terror officers. As he walked to the court jail, he smiled briefly when The Straits Times asked him how he was doing.

In court yesterday, Ms Anita said Aman had often, while preaching in places such as Jakarta and Surabaya, described democracy as "syirik", or idolatry, and argued that Muslims had a duty to free themselves from this system and attack representatives of the state like the police.

Aman told the court he did not wish to appoint a lawyer.

Judges said the court will assign a lawyer for him as necessitated by law for any defendant facing more than 15 years in jail. But Aman said he would not sign any mandate paper to appoint a lawyer.

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In the next hearing scheduled for next Friday, prosecutors will bring in witnesses to support the case against Aman.

Aman had the chance to rebut the charges against him at the next hearing, but opted to not use the right.

Police allege Aman gave the directive for the Jakarta attack, and had ordered his followers to mount the strike from prison, where he was serving a nine-year jail term for funding a Jemaah Islamiah paramilitary training camp in Aceh.

During an impromptu check, the authorities had found several mobile phones concealed inside Aman's cell following the attack on Jan 14, 2016.

He was helped by cellmate Iwan Darmawan Muntho, who goes by the alias Rois. Rois is on death row for his part in the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

Aman's indictment comes after a Jakarta court last week sentenced hardened terrorist Suryadi Mas'ud to 10 years' jail for procuring firearms in the Philippines ahead of the 2016 Jakarta attack.

The attack, which unfolded in the heart of Indonesia's capital where the popular Sarinah mall is located, was the first terror attack on Indonesian soil since the 2009 twin bombings at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in the city, which left seven dead and 50 injured, including a number of foreigners.

In the 2016 incident, two of four attackers blew themselves up in what appeared to be a coordinated suicide bomb attack just before lunch hour. One did so at a Starbucks cafe, while the other blew himself up at a police post. The two other attackers were then gunned down by police at close range.

Preaching terror from prison cell

Despite spending the past eight years behind bars, firebrand Aman Abdurrahman has emerged as the leading pro-ISIS voice in Indonesia, releasing extremist sermons over e-mail and social media.

The 46-year-old founder of militant group Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD)was born in Sumedang, West Java. He attended Islamic boarding schools before getting a degree at the Saudi-funded Institute for the Study of Islam and Arabic (LIPIA) in Jakarta, where he worked as a lecturer and preacher. In early 2000, he was dismissed for adopting takfiri doctrine, which denounces all who do not agree with its extremist skew as apostates.

Four years later, he got a seven-year prison term over a failed bombing in Depok, West Java. In jail, he met Jemaah Islamiah leader Abu Bakar Bashir.

Aman was released early in 2008 for good behaviour and soon teamed up with Bashir, who got out in 2005, to form a paramilitary training camp in Aceh. The police raided the camp in 2010 and both were again convicted, Aman getting a nine-year sentence and Bashir a 15-year term.

In jail, Aman pledged his allegiance to ISIS online and began translating the group's propaganda into Indonesian in 2014. He also amassed a following and some inmates went on to engage in terror activities after their release. In 2015, more than 20 Indonesian terrorist factions united behind Aman to support ISIS, giving birth to JAD which he directed from his prison cell.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2018, with the headline Radical Islamic cleric charged with inciting terror attacks. Subscribe