Pakistan repatriated militant Umar Patek to Indonesia on Thursday, nearly seven months after the Bali bombing suspect was captured in Abbottabad, the same Pakistani city where US Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in May.
Upon Mr. Patek’s return, the head of the country’s anti-terrorism agency, Ansyaad Mbai, told local media that the Javanese-Arab militant had admitted to making the bombs used in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.
Patek’s arrest has stirred concerns about how best to prosecute militants suspected of cross-border terrorism. His co-conspirator in the Bali bombing, a militant known as Hambali, is currently at Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial after being arrested in Thailand in 2003.
Initially, Indonesian officials feared Patek could walk free if he was returned to Jakarta, since a robust anti-terrorism law enacted in 2003 could not be applied retroactively to punish Patek for his alleged role in the Bali bombings.
“We want to ensure he will be responsible for all the alleged terrorist acts he has perpetrated,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene. “Once our security apparatus had built up the case and we felt we had a strong case to bring him to justice, then we started the process to bring him back.”
Officials here now say Patek could be charged with premeditated murder and tried under the criminal code and emergency law 12, which prohibits the possession and use of explosives.
Since his arrest, the United States, Australia and the Philippines have all expressed interest in gaining access to the Indonesian national, who allegedly trained militants in Mindanao in the Philippines after fleeing there in 2003 and has suspected Al Qaeda links. Indonesia, however, is the only country that appears to have the evidence to convict him.
A treasure trove of information?
The US had offered a $1 million bounty for information leading to Patek’s capture, and analysts say his arrest may reveal important details about the links between extremist networks in South and Southeast Asia.
“He knows better than anyone else what the foreign jihadi networks are like in Mindanao,” says Mr. Jones. “He’ll know the transit routes, what the weapons mafia is like and where people get guns.”
Few details have been revealed about the operation that led to Patek’s capture, or what he was doing in Pakistan at the time of his arrest.
Patek, a former Afghan-trained mujahideen (holy warrior), is a senior member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a militant offshoot of Al Qaeda set up in the 1990s.
He is also the one of the last remaining suspects in the Bali bombing. In 2008, Indonesia executed three of the men convicted of plotting that attack.
The muted response from radical hardliners here following the conviction in June of radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who a Jakarta court sentenced to 15 years in jail for helping set up a jihadist training camp in Aceh, has ebbed concerns that Patek’s return could become a flashpoint for radical Islamists.
That trial may also have reassured critics of Indonesia’s ability to inflict fair sentences.
“This is not the first time for Indonesia to try alleged terrorists,” said Tene. “We’ve shown our seriousness but also the capacity of our judicial system to bring these heinous acts to justice.”
Of more concern, perhaps, is how Patek will be treated in prison in a country where convicted terrorists have been granted access to cellphones and computers, allowing them to seek funds and continue preaching their message of jihad from behind bars.