Farouk Arnaz, Jakarta – Indonesia's anti-terror police squad Densus 88 has arrested Zulkarnaen, also known as Aris Sumarsono, a senior member of the Jamaah Islamiyah, or JI, a terrorist group responsible for the 2002 Bali Bombing, at his hideout in East Lampung, Lampung last week, a police spokesman said in a statement over the weekend.
Zulkarnaen was arrested on Thursday in his hideout in Purbolinggo, East Lampung district, after evading the police for more than 18 years.
The police said the 47-year old man was the founder and the commander of the Askar JI, the group's special unit that carried out the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and injured 219 others.
"He created the special unit which, was later involved in the Bali bombing, the conflict in Poso and Ambon," Ins. Gen Argo Yuwono, the head of public relations at the National Police, said on Saturday.
Ali Fauzi Manzi, a former JI member, said Zulkarnaen did not play an active role in the 2002 bombing.
"As far as I know, he was implicated in Bali Bombing because at the time he was the commander of Askari JI," Ali Fauzi told the Globe's sister publication BeritaSatu.com on Sunday.
"I need to point out here that most JI members at that time did not agree with the Bali Bombing," he said.
Ali Fauzi said that Zulkarnaen disagreed with targeting a neutral place like Bali for an attack. Zulkarnaen created the special unit to respond to 1999 sectarian conflicts in Ambon, Maluku and wished to limit the unit's deployment only in the conflict zones, he said.
"So if we look into a series of bombings in the country after the Bali bombing, was Mr. Zul involved in any of them? He was involved in none," Ali Fauzi said.
Zulkarnaen's arrest came three weeks after the police arrested Upik Lawanga, JI bomb-maker, in Central Lampung.
Ken Setiawan, the founder of Indonesia Islamic State (NII) Crisis Center, a terrorist rehabilitation organization, said Lampung was a favorite hiding place for terrorists operating in the country due to its people's diversity and proximity to Java.
Lampung was the gateway to Sumatra, and people from anywhere in Sumatra must go through Lampung if they wanted to go to Jakarta by land, for example, Ken said.
The province was also a miniature of Indonesia. Ken said all ethnic groups in Indonesia were in Lampung, so any newcomer hardly stuck out among the people there. "They have not known their neighbors for months because they tend to go about their own business," he said.
Ken said Lampung had become "a barometer" for terror activities in the country. Zulkarnaen's and Upik's arrests could suggest that many other several high-ranking terrorist operatives resided there, he said.
"The leaders and members of radical groups were not just silent while they are in Lampung. They could also recruit and spread their ideology in the community," Ken said.
Ken noted that Lampung's historical roots could be supportive of grooming extremist Islamist ideologies. In 1989, the Indonesian Military allegedly massacres an Islamist commune in Talangsari in East Lampung district after the commune attacked residents and authorities. Human rights groups estimated between 27 to 130 people killed in what was later called as the Talangsari incident.