Indonesia’s Cirebon Bomber May Have Been From Town, Police Say

The suicide bomber who blew himself up and wounded 30 other people at a mosque inside a Cirebon, West Java police compound two days ago may have been a local resident, Indonesian authorities said.

Cirebon residents identified Muhammad Syarif from a photo of the bomber’s face that was distributed after the attack, National Police Spokesman Anton Bachrul Alam told reporters at a briefing in Jakarta today. Authorities are conducting DNA tests on the remains and have taken comparative samples from Syarif’s mother and father, Alam said. Police haven’t determined a motive for the bombing, he added.

The Cirebon incident was the first such attack in the country since July 2009, when two suicide bombers killed nine people including themselves at Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. While Indonesia, a secular state with the world’s biggest population of Muslims, has stepped up raids against terrorist suspects since then, the root causes of radicalism must be addressed, according to an International Crisis Group adviser.

“Every time a bomber is caught or killed, there’s a tendency here to say, ‘whew, now it’s over,’” Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based senior adviser with Crisis Group, said in an e-mail today. “But the ideology that produces these attacks is alive and well, and until the country begins to address the radical ideas that produce terrorism, we are going to have more killings.”

On Feb. 10, three members of the Jamaah Ahmadiyah, a minority Muslim sect, died when villagers attacked the home of an Ahmadiyah member in Cikeusik district in Indonesia’s Banten province, news website reported at the time.

Islamic Defenders Front

The government banned the group in 2008 from spreading interpretations that deviate from the teachings of Islam, the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs said on its website.

A group called the Islamic Defenders Front has demanded President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono outlaw the group, and threatened to overthrow the government if he doesn’t comply.

On March 15, four people were sent bombs concealed in books, one of which exploded, wounding five including an officer who lost his hand.

Bombs were sent to Ulil Absar Abdhala, founder of the Liberal Islam Network; Gories Mere, a former head of Indonesia’s Densus-88 anti-terrorism unit; Yapto S. Soeryosoemarno, chairman of the Pancasila Youth organization; and Ahmad Dhani, an Indonesian musician.

Addressing Radicalism

“Stopping extremist dakwah is not a police job, nor can it just be tossed to the BNPT,” Jones said, referring to extremist preaching, and Indonesia’s counter-terrorism unit. “It requires the involvement of community leaders, and it also requires a recognition that there is a direct link between religious intolerance that encourages hatred and violence against minority communities and this kind of extremist violence.”

Indonesian authorities have blamed Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda-linked group, for bomb attacks at hotels, nightclubs and embassies that claimed more than 200 lives in the past decade.

Pakistan notified Indonesian officials last month that it arrested a man who may be Umar Patek, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua told reporters in Islamabad on March 31. Patek is accused of helping carry out the October 2002 nightclub bombings in the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people.

The arrest may shed light on terrorist networks in the region, Crisis Group’s Jones said in an e-mail April 1.

Understanding Networks

Patek’s arrest “does not mean an end to terrorist attacks, only that his information may lead to better understanding of networks and therefore more scope for preventive programs,” Jones said.

Patek “will have information that everyone wants on the nature of terrorist links between Pakistan and Southeast Asia, between Indonesia and Mindanao, and perhaps between Mindanao and the Middle East,” Jones wrote in the e-mail. Mindanao is an island of the Philippines where Islamist insurgents have waged a war for independence.

On Feb. 10, Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir went to trial in Jakarta on terrorism charges that could bring the death penalty four years after his acquittal for links to the Bali nightclub bombings.

No Terrorism Conviction

While Bashir has served two jail terms since 2003, authorities have never convicted him of terrorism as part of a crackdown on militants under Yudhoyono.

Police arrested Bashir, 72, last year and accused him of contributing funds to a terrorist training camp in Aceh province. The charges could result in a sentence ranging from three years in prison to death, Bashir’s lawyer, Achmad Michdan, said in an interview in February.

Bashir’s arrest last year followed a February raid on a training camp in Aceh that produced a list of more than 100 terrorism suspects, according to the government.

Indonesia allowed Aceh to impose Islamic Shariah law in 2001 in a bid to win over the population during the central government’s war with separatists there. More than 98 percent of Acehnese are Muslims who mostly adhere to a stricter interpretation of Islam than others in the country.