'Key player' in Bali bombings sentenced to death

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The Independent Online

An Indonesian court today convicted and sentenced to death a key player in the Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

Amrozi bin Nurhasyim was found guilty of planning and helping execute the bombings, the deadliest since the 9-11 attacks in the US.

"The accused is found guilty in a legal and convincing manner of carrying out an act of terrorism," said Judge I Made Karna.

After the verdict was read, Amrozi took off his Islamic skull cap, raised his arms and gave his lawyers the thumbs-up sign. Hundreds of people, including survivors of the bombings, cheered when the judge read the sentence.

As he was led out of the courtroom, Amrozi smiled broadly at Australian survivors, some of whom shouted back angrily. Australia lost 88 people in the attack.

The verdict came two days after another bomb exploded at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, killing at least 10 people and wounding nearly 150. Both attacks have been linked with Jemaah Islamiyah, a shadowy al-Qaida-linked terrorist group believed to be operating in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia's government, which was accused of being soft on terrorists before the Bali blasts, has been eager to show the world that it is committed to bringing the perpetrators to justice.

If the Amrozi verdict is followed by similar convictions for other alleged bombers, Indonesia's notoriously inefficient judicial system could get a much needed boost in its efforts to confront Islamic extremism.

Amrozi's was the first of at least three dozen cases to come to trial. Three other defendants are currently facing the court in Denpasar, the capital of Bali island. At least 30 other suspects, apprehended after a massive manhunt, are expected to face justice in coming months.

Most of Bali's 3 million people are Hindu, unlike the rest of Indonesia's 207 million people who are predominantly Muslim. Several of the alleged bombers said they picked the venue to kill as many Westerners as possible in order to avenge the treatment of fellow Muslims in other parts of the world.

"The Balinese people will be rejoicing today," said Julia Ika Setiani, a university student who attended the trial. "My family and my friends have suffered because of this grisly bombing."

Amrozi, a 41-year-old mechanic from the island of Java, has been called the "smiling bomber" because of his jocular manner and lack of remorse after his arrest last year. During a peer's trial, he grinned and yelled out "Bomb!" when asked about Tuesday's explosion in Jakarta.

The judge said Amrozi has seven days to appeal his sentence, something his lawyers said they would do.

Although Indonesian law allows for death sentences to be handed down for crimes such as murder and terrorism, in practice executions are rare.

Maj. Gen. Made Pastika, who led the Bali investigation, told reporters Thursday that only six suspects in the Bali attacks remain on the loose.

These include Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, believed to be Jemaah Islamiyah's operations chief and Osama bin Laden's point man in Southeast Asia.

Pastika said there were obvious similarities between the attacks in Bali and Jakarta, including the fact that a mobile phone was used to detonate a car bomb and that the types of explosives were similar.

In both cases, soft targets frequented by foreigners were attacked and appeared aimed at causing maximum casualties.

"The threat is still there and we have to increase our security," Pastika warned.

Prosecutors said that while Amrozi did not take part in the actual attack, he purchased a van and explosives used in the car bomb that flattened the crowded Sari Club and nearby Paddy's Bar.

Police say he signed a confession. But during his trial Amrozi said he had been forced to sign it.

However, Amrozi's brother, Ali Imron, confirmed in his testimony that Amrozi had taken part in plotting sessions and had purchased the vehicle.

Prosecutors allege the Bali strike was part of a campaign by Jemaah Islamiyah to set up a fundamentalist Islamic state in Southeast Asia. Scores of other alleged members have been arrested in the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.

"I want to punch Amrozi in the face," said Niluh Pasek, a noodle vendor just outside the courthouse, before the trial began. "The Bali bomb has caused nothing but misery for the people here."