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Militant Is Sentenced to Death for Bali Blasts

An Indonesian court orders the mechanic to face a firing squad for procuring the van and explosives that killed 202 people last year.

August 08, 2003|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

DENPASAR, Indonesia — Amrozi bin H. Nurhasyim, the Islamic militant known as the "smiling bomber," was found guilty Thursday of mass murder and sentenced to die by firing squad for helping stage last year's nightclub bombings in Bali.

Amrozi, who says that dying as a martyr has been his ambition since childhood, smiled broadly on hearing his sentence, pumped his fist in the air and yelled, "Allahu akbar!" -- "God is great!" Then he turned toward cameras in the Bali courtroom and held two thumbs up.

The 41-year-old car mechanic, who bought the minivan and explosives used in the Oct. 12 attack, is the first person in Indonesia to be convicted under a tough anti-terrorism law adopted after the bombings. The attack on two nightclubs, using a car bomb and at least one suicide bomber, killed 202 people. It was the deadliest act of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Amrozi, legally and convincingly, is proved to have planned an act of terrorism," Chief Judge I Made Karna announced. "The defendant is sentenced to death."

Authorities say the Bali bombings were carried out by members of Jemaah Islamiah, a regional extremist group that seeks to establish an Islamic state in Southeast Asia and has ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

One of Amrozi's attorneys, Adnan Wirawan, said the bombers wanted to kill "Americans and Jews," though most of the victims turned out to be Australians and Indonesians.

The attorney portrayed Amrozi as a simple-minded man who participated in the plot but could not have been responsible for the attack and did not deserve the death penalty. He said he would appeal the sentence no matter what his client said.

"He does not have sufficient intelligence to be the mastermind," the attorney said after the hearing. "He's not a murderer. He's not a killer."

Despite Amrozi's apparent eagerness to face the firing squad, it could be years before his appeals are decided. The last execution in Indonesia was in May 2001.

In handing down the maximum penalty, the five-judge panel appeared undeterred by a car bomb that exploded Tuesday at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, the capital, killing at least 10 people and injuring about 150.

Authorities believe that Jemaah Islamiah was responsible for the Marriott bombing, and see strong similarities to the Bali attack.

Some suspect that the group was retaliating for the arrest and trial of Amrozi and other high-profile operatives, including Jemaah Islamiah's alleged spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir.

Officials fear that the Amrozi verdict could prompt further bombings in Jakarta in the coming days. Key operatives who are suspected of helping organize the nightclub attack and build the Bali car bomb remain on the run.

"We are intensifying the hunt for these people," Chief of Detectives Erwin Mappaseng told reporters in Jakarta. "We have pictures of them, and they were involved in the Bali and other bombings."

Mappaseng said today that police had identified the man who drove the car bomb to the hotel as a Jemaah Islamiah recruit named Asmar Latin Sami, 28.

His severed head was found at the scene of the bombing.

Video footage taken by a hotel security camera just before the explosion shows that the Toyota Kijang minivan stopped in the hotel's U-shaped driveway, but that no one got out, a police spokesman said. When a security guard approached the vehicle, the bomb went off.

Police said they have not established whether Sami committed suicide by detonating the bomb, or whether someone nearby triggered the explosion with a cell phone.

The conviction and sentencing of Amrozi on Thursday in the Bali bombings were a major breakthrough for a police department and judiciary that are often criticized as inept and corrupt.

The first break in the case came when police traced ownership of the Mitsubishi minivan used in the Bali attack to Amrozi. He had erased the van's engine and chassis numbers but had overlooked a public transport license number once given to the vehicle.

Under questioning, Amrozi implicated others in the group and police eventually arrested more than 30 others, including two of his brothers.

In its findings, the court said that many of the suspects have admitted that they belong to Jemaah Islamiah.

Amrozi earned his nickname as "the smiling bomber" when cameras captured him grinning, laughing and joking with police. He also smiled frequently during his court appearances. His attitude incensed many people in Australia, home to 88 of those who were killed in the Bali bombings.

In an interview with Australian journalists last week, Amrozi said he preferred to die for his beliefs than to spend the rest of his life in prison.

"It will be a martyr's death, and that is what I am looking for," he said.

"I'm not scared at all. Since I was a child, I have wanted to die a martyr's death."

Amrozi treated the journalists to a rendition of a song he said he had written about Palestinians oppressed by Jews.

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