Bali bombing: last suspect arrested after 18 years on the run

The last of the Bali bombers has been arrested in Indonesia, 18 years after the terrorist attack on the holiday island that killed 202 people, most of them western tourists.

Indonesian police announced today that they had captured Aris Sumarsono, known by his alias Zulkarnaen, on the island of Sumatra. He was arrested without resistance last Thursday in Lampung province, and was the last known member of the Bali bombing gang, members of the Islamist militant organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), not to have been captured or killed.

Eighty-eight Australians, 38 Indonesians and 28 British citizens died in the double attack on a crowded bar and nightclub in in October 2002. It was followed by a second wave of lesser bombings in Bali three years later, and repeated explosions in other parts of the archipelago.

In 2008, three men were executed for the bombings, and half a dozen others have been arrested since then or killed in gun battles with police.

Zulkarnaen, 57, had a degree in biology from the prestigious Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta before travelling to Afghanistan where he trained as a fighter.

Zulkarnaen was one of al-Qaeda’s representatives in southeast Asia and one of the few people in Indonesia who had had direct contact with Osama bin Laden’s (deceased) network, a report by the United Nations said. He led a group of fighters known as the Special Force, made up of 300 Indonesian veterans of conflict in Afghanistan and the Philippines.

He became an explosives expert and spent ten years as head of Camp Saddah, a training base in Pakistan for fighters from southeast Asia, close to the Afghan border. After the arrest of Riduan Isamuddin, a close associate of bin Laden known as Hambali, Zulkarnaen became JI’s head of operations.

Apart from the Bali bombings, he is accused of having led the attack on the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003 that killed 12 people.

Nearly two decades after the international trauma of Bali, Indonesia has gone a long way to subduing domestic terrorism. But if the number of terrorist acts declined, the number of would-be jihadists has not, and the war in Syria, and the rise of Isis, offered a training ground and inspiration for new recruits to violent jihad.

In May 2018 28 people were killed in a series of suicide bombings in the city of Surabaya, carried out by devout, but outwardly respectable, families including parents and children.

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