Indonesian police say they have arrested a man believed to be the leader of the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah terror network who has eluded capture since 2003.
- Para Wijayanto became leader of Jemaah Islamiah in 2007
- He is a civil engineer who received military training at a jihadi camp in 2000
- He is believed to have trained and sent fighters to Syria
National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said that Para Wijayanto was arrested by counterterrorism police with his wife at a hotel in the Jakarta satellite city, Bekasi, on Saturday.
He said Mr Wijayanto, a civil engineer who received military training at a jihadi camp in the southern Philippines in 2000, was also involved in sectarian conflict in Poso, known as a hotbed of Islamic militancy on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island.
Since 2013, Mr Wijayanto also has recruited and trained members of Jemaah Islamiah’s military wing, sending some to Syria to fight with extremist groups, Mr Prasetyo said.
“He was appointed as amir [leader] of Jemaah Islamiah because of his capability and track record as an Islamic fighter,” he said.
Jemaah Islamiah carried out the 2002 Bali bombings, which claimed the lives of 202 people, including 88 Australians.
However, Mr Pratseyo confirmed Mr Wijayanto was not suspected of direct involvement in making explosives for the Bali bombings or the 2004 attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta.
Radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, was convicted in 2011 and released in January this year.
Indonesian police are still attempting to prosecute several alleged terrorists involved with the attack, including Hambali, who has been in US detention since 2006.
A convicted militant who now collaborates with Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency, Sofyan Tsauri, said Mr Wijayanto became leader of Jemaah Islamiah in 2007, replacing another militant, Zarkasih, who was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Authorities are ‘out there doing their job’
Perth man Phil Britten survived the 2002 bombing.
The then 22-year-old footballer was celebrating a grand final win with his teammates from the Kingsley Football Club, seven of whom were killed.
Mr Britten said it was good to hear the terrorist group was still being pursued.
“When someone like this gets captured I realise that even while we’re sleeping, the authorities are out there doing their job and that is very comforting,” he said.
Jemaah Islamiah was banned by an Indonesian court in 2008.
It was significantly weakened but not obliterated by a sustained crackdown on militants by Indonesia’s counterterrorism police with US and Australian support.
“In fact, Jemaah Islamiah never vanished,” Tsauri said.
Islamic State group attacks abroad have inspired a new generation of Indonesian militants despite the sustained crackdown on extremists.
In May last year, two families carried out suicide bombings at churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, killing a dozen people and two young girls whose parents had involved them in one of the attacks. Police said the father of the two girls was the leader of a cell in a larger militant network that claimed allegiance to IS.