JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian prosecutors postponed their sentencing demand Wednesday for a top terror suspect who eluded capture for 18 years and is accused of masterminding deadly attacks and sectarian conflict in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Aris Sumarsono, 58, better known as Zulkarnaen, is the former military commander of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian militant group with ties to al-Qaida which the U.S. has designated a terrorist group. The group is widely blamed for attacks including the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, as well as attacks in the Philippines.
Prosecutors were scheduled to issue their sentencing demand on Wednesday, but said they have not finished preparing it.
“We need time to study this case before we issue our demand,” prosecutor Teguh Suhendro said in a hearing at East Jakarta District Court held remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The demand was initially scheduled for Nov. 24, but has been postponed several times. Presiding Judge Alex Adam Faisal ordered prosecutors to present their demand on Jan. 5.
Zulkarnaen had eluded capture since being named a suspect in the October 2002 suicide bombings at Paddy’s Pub and the Sari Club in Bali. He was arrested last year in Lampung, the same southern town on Sumatra island where Jemmaah Islamiyah bombmaker Upik Lawanga was arrested a week earlier. The two were tried separately at the same court. Lawanga, who was on the police wanted list for 16 years, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Dec. 8.
Police were tipped off to his hideout after interrogating several suspected militants arrested earlier.
Since May 2005, Zulkarnaen has been listed on an al-Qaida sanctions list by the U.N. Security Council for being associated with Osama bin Laden or the Taliban.
He became operations chief for Jemaah Islamiyah after the arrest of his predecessor, Encep Nurjaman, also known as Hambali, in Thailand in 2003.
The United States’ “Rewards for Justice” program had offered a bounty of up to $5 million for his capture. He was the only Indonesian on the list.
Zulkarnaen argued that he was a leader of the network’s military wing but was not involved at all levels of operation in the Bali bombings because he was focusing on organizing followers in sectarian conflicts in Ambon and Poso and in the southern Philippines.
During his trial that began in September, other convicted militants in the 2002 Bali bombings, including Umar Patek and Ali Imron, who were sentenced to 20 years and life in jail respectively, supported Zulkarnaen’s argument, saying he knew about the plot but did not play a role in its operation.
An Indonesian court banned Jemaah Islamiyah in 2008, and a sustained crackdown by security forces with support from the U.S. and Australia helped weaken the militant network.
Militant attacks on foreigners in Indonesia have largely been replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, mainly police and security forces, inspired by Islamic State group tactics abroad.
Indonesia’s police counterterrorism unit, known as Densus 88, has arrested more than 500 suspected Jemaah Islamiyah members in the past two years, including a member of the Indonesia Ulema Council, the country’s highest Islamic body, who was arrested last month.
Authorities estimate the group has more than 6,000 members.