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Bali Bomber Imam Samudra Welcomed Death Call

Bali Bomber Imam Samudra Welcomed Death Call

By Richard S. Ehrlich

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Accused Bali bomber Imam Samudra welcomed prosecution demands for his death claiming it would bring him "near to God," amid an international debate about whether or not executing terrorists makes them martyrs.

"I'd like to say thank you to the prosecutor team, which has demanded the death sentence.

Because in death we live peacefully, and in death we draw near to God," Mr. Samudra told a court in Bali on Monday (Aug. 11).

"If I've made mistakes I'm sorry. If the victims of the bombs were Indonesians and Muslims, I'm sorry," he said.

"But if the victims came from countries which are allies of the United States, then I'm pleased," Mr. Samudra said at the start of his defense plea during his trial for the October 2002 bombing which killed 202 people, most of them Australians and other foreign tourists.

Newspaper editorials, psychologists and politicians in Indonesia, Australia and the U.S., meanwhile, have been debating the value of killing the terrorists convicted in Bali and elsewhere, compared with keeping them in jail for life.

"One way or another, they will die for what they believe," University of Indonesia psychologist Saparinah Sadli told the Jakarta Post.

"They have anticipated this from the very beginning and this explains why Amrozi and other suspects in the Bali blast seem to take the legal process lightly," she said.

The psychologist was referring to Amrozi bin Nurhasyim -- also known as "the smiling bomber" because of his maniacal grin throughout his trial.

Mr. Amrozi, a 41-year-old mechanic, received a death sentence on Aug. 7 for buying the explosives and vehicle used in the Bali bombing.

"What [confidence] he has displayed during the trial could convince others not to be afraid to follow his path," Ms. Saparinah said.

"I can categorize him as a mentally healthy man," said Airlangga University psychiatrist Soetandyo Wingnjosoebroto.

"I assume he has strongly been indoctrinated by higher authorities in his organization," Mr. Soetandyo added.

Washington said the Bali bombers belonged to Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian Islamic "terrorist" group linked to al Qaeda.

"The court's decision is a clear sign that Indonesia is serious about combating terrorism," U.S. State Department Tara Rigler was quoted as saying after Mr. Amrozi's death sentence was announced.

Australia's media echoed that line and said leniency might imply that Bali's court was cowed by the JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta which killed 11 people on Aug. 5 -- two days before the judge announced Mr. Amrozi's punishment.

"It took courage to stare down the implicit threat of the attack on the Marriott Hotel," said The Australian newspaper in an editorial.

The Sydney Morning Herald, however, suggested "for operational reasons, Amrozi may be more useful to investigators alive, in custody."

If Mr. Amrozi is executed, it warned, "the fear then must be that the martyr's death he craves will simply rally more zealots to his bloody cause."

The debate over the Bali bombers' fate shows the power and threat that convicted terrorists possess even after they are caught and sentenced whether or not they are executed.

By imprisoning Mr. Amrozi for life, for example, he could spend decades as a mouthpiece expressing terrorists' statements and inspire extremists to seize hostages or commit other acts in demand that he be set free.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard supported Mr. Amrozi's execution but met with criticism because Australia does not have capital punishment.

"I know some people disagree with me, some people say that I should be saying, 'Don't execute the man'," Mr. Howard said on Aug. 8.

"I'm not going to do that because I do respect the judicial processes of Indonesia," the prime minister said.

"When you're fighting barbarism and terrorism, I think you need to be careful not to descend to barbaric acts yourself," responded Australian Senator Andrew Bartlett, leader of the Democrat party.

"In my view, the death penalty is a barbaric act that we need to oppose in all circumstances," Senator Bartlett said.

Some of the Bali bombing's British victims were represented by a group which said it would ask Indonesia to lighten Mr. Amrozi's punishment to life in prison.

On Aug. 7, when the judge read out the execution sentence against Mr. Amrozi, several Australians and other relatives sitting in the public gallery applauded his demise.

Upon hearing the clapping, however, Mr. Amrozi turned to face them, gave a thumbs-up sign, grinned, chuckled and nodded his head as if he was receiving an ovation for his deadly performance.

It was the first death sentence handed down by the court against a key suspect in the Bali blast.

Mr. Amrozi's lawyers, meanwhile, filed an appeal against his death sentence which could delay any execution for months or years.

"He [Amrozi] has signed a letter authorizing lawyers to make an appeal," lawyer Wirawan Adnan said.

A 14-man firing squad traditionally carries out death sentences in Indonesia, but only one bullet is live and the other 13 are blanks, to lessen the mental and emotional stress on the executioners.

Two of Mr. Amrozi's brothers are among more than 30 other men on trial for the Bali assault.

They include Mr. Samudra, described as an engineer and computer expert, who reportedly learned to become a field commander in Afghanistan.

After returning to Indonesia, Mr. Samudra allegedly helped organize Mr. Amrozi and others to put together the bomb which destroyed Paddy's nightclub in Bali.

"I saw lots of whiteys dancing and lots of whiteys drinking there," Mr. Samudra reportedly told police in a confession.

"That place ... was a meeting-place for U.S. terrorists and their allies," he allegedly confessed.

Two suicide bombers, both named Iqbal, died in twin blasts timed 30 seconds apart.

"I was morally responsible for telling (the bombers) to carry out attacks against white people," Mr. Samudra told the court on June 11. "Waging war against the United States was my idea, but you should ask Amrozi about the idea of Bali. Amrozi planned it," Mr. Samudra told the court.

His trial in Bali, on charges of plotting terrorist acts, started on June 2. Whether Mr. Amrozi or other executed bombers are hailed as martyrs or not, Indonesia still faces future terrorist assaults, authorities said.

"The 17th of August is Indonesia's National Day and that is a day when we think it is possible there could be a terrorist attack in the central Jakarta area," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters on Aug. 6.

*****

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/glossograph/

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