Oh, What a Tangled Web They Weave

By Alfian Hamzah

JAKARTA – He wasn’t the one the police were after that day in Manado, in North Sulawesi, but Suryadi Mas’ud had the misfortune of being close to where a moneychanger was assaulted. The perpetrator had fled, prompting the local police to search the nearby environs. They encountered Suryadi, and when they stopped him and inspected his bag, they found a false passport, about Rp23 million in cash, and an article mentioning Omar Al-Faruq, whom U.S. intelligence agencies say is the head of Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia.

Al-Faruq, in fact, had been extradited to the United States several months earlier by Indonesia. The police apparently thought the news clipping about him, the sizeable amount of cash (equivalent to about $2,700),  and the false passport were enough reasons for them to detain Suryadi. Two weeks later, the police were touting the 31-year-old Makassar native as a key informant in their investigation of the Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, believed to be the Southeast Asian version of Al-Qaeda, and based in Indonesia. They also said that their detainee had even described to them a “terrorist network” spanning several cities, such as Banten, Solo, and Makassar, in Indonesia.

For some reason, however, Suryadi would only be charged later with having been involved in the December 2002 bombing of a McDonald’s outlet in Makassar. The case is still in court. The prosecutors are asking that he be meted a 17-year jail term, although under the law, the maximum sentence for the crime he is accused of committing is life imprisonment.

At the time of the bombing, Suryadi was already in police custody. But the police maintain that it was Suryadi who had collected the money used for the McDonald’s bombing, which killed three people and injured several others. He had also constructed the explosive, they say. The police assert that Suryadi even knows Imam Samudra, who was recently found guilty of masterminding the October 2002 bombings in Bali that had scores of fatalities, many of them foreign tourists. Imam Samudra has been sentenced to death. The police say that last year, he had ordered Suryadi to inspect six churches in Manado that had been targeted by the JI for more bombings.

Forced confessions?

Suryadi had confessed to all these, the police say. But in several instances during his trial, Suryadi said that he had made the “confessions” under duress. He has since withdrawn his confession that it was he who had put together the bomb used at the McDonald’s incident. Indeed, there are strong indications that what the Indonesian police told the public about him were based largely on what they themselves wanted to believe: that the bombings happening across Indonesia at the time were all connected and were the JI’s handiwork.

Up until the Bali bombings, few Indonesians had even heard of Jemaah Islamiyah. But after the carnage in Bali placed the capabilities of the Indonesian police under closer international scrutiny, the authorities began to mention the organization frequently, and were soon propagating the idea of a JI “grand plan” through the media. To the Indonesian police, a spate of bombings during the latter part of 2002 looked like part of such a plan. But they had nothing to connect these – until they stumbled upon Suryadi and his curious set of belongings. Several days after he was taken into police custody, Suryadi had been turned into the bombings’ “missing link.”

Suryadi does not deny being a mujahideen, something that he seemed to have readily admitted – perhaps even proudly – to the police when they had detained him that fateful day of Nov. 12, 2002 in Manado. Suryadi even repeated the same to this writer a few months later, describing in detail the combat training he and other Indonesians had undergone some six years ago in the Philippines, in a camp of the Muslim Filipino secessionist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Whether or not Suryadi has any connections at all with the JI, however, is unclear. Still, even the police now admit that some of the bombings they had earlier attributed to the JI had nothing to do with the Jemaah Islamiyah at all.

What apparently inspired the Indonesian police to see Suryadi as someone who could link the bombings together was his admission of being trained as a mujahideen in a foreign land. Imam Samudra, after all, had trained and seen action in Afghanistan. The Philippines is no Afghanistan, to be sure, but it appeared to have been enough for the Indonesian police to see the hand of JI, if not that of the Al-Qaeda, somewhere in Suryadi’s experiences.

An arm-smuggling mujahideen

Like other young Muslims, Suryadi had been inspired by the writings of Dr. Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who had been killed in the war in Afghanistan in 1989. Azzam had spent many years of his life preaching jihad, which, he wrote, does not know the bounds of narrow nationalism. Jihad is the pinnacle of the Muslim faith and the means to ensure the spread of Islamic preachings. Azzam, however, also advocated “Iddadul Jihad,” the term used in the Holy Qur’an to denote, in the literal sense, preparation for armed jihad or religious struggle.

Suryadi said that the training they underwent in the MILF’s Camp Abubakar was designed for the purpose of “defending Islam or Muslim interests in Indonesia,” as well as to help the MILF in its fight for an independent state. But he said, “We did not go there because we were bloodthirsty. Jihad is a noble thing. It is used only to defend the Islamic community. And if we perish in the act, we are guaranteed a place in heaven. That’s why I was interested (in the training).” He spent almost Rp6 million (equivalent to about US$706 at today’s rates) of his own money for his training there that lasted six months.

Data from the immigration department in General Santos, a Philippine southern city, show that Suryadi has entered that country more than 10 times. There is no record of him being arrested or detained there, although Indonesian police now believe that between 1998 and 2000, he smuggled tens of Indonesian Muslim “activists” into the Philippines. Before his arrest in Manado, Suryadi had no police record as well in Indonesia.

Three years ago, Suryadi told this writer, he also smuggled 15 M-16 machine guns from General Santos to the port of Makassar, where he handed them over to Agus Dwikarna. Agus brought the guns to the Islamist militia in the Moluccas in eastern Indonesia, where armed strife that began in 1999 has already claimed the lives of more than 8,000 Christians and Muslims. Last year, the Philippine police arrested Agus, and he has since been in their custody.

Not all of Suryadi’s trips to the Philippines were related to his being a mujahideen. According to him, he also went to the neighboring country to buy RDL and Extraderm cosmetics, which he then sold in Indonesia. When he was arrested, he was about to leave for the Philippines again, this time for Davao, another southern city. The police would say later that Suryadi had been planning to smuggle more guns from the Philippines into Indonesia. Suryadi, however, said he was merely on yet another cosmetic-buying trip.

Interrogations and confrontations

The police in Manado interrogated Suryadi for about two weeks. They recorded his alleged confession in which he supposedly spoke about a network of MILF training graduates spread across several cities across Indonesia, as well as a plot to launch a series of church bombings in Manado. He had no lawyer while he was being interrogated and his family was not informed of his whereabouts. When the Manado police were done with him, they sent him to Jakarta, where he was supposed to have a confrontation with Imam Samudra, whom he had implicated in his “confession.”

Suryadi was at the National Police Headquarters in Jakarta when the bombing at the McDonald’s in Makassar took place. After a week, he was sent by the police to Makassar to confront four suspects in the McDonald’s incident. Suryadi, however, was first described to the media as being a suspect in the Philippine Consulate General bombing in Manado, before the police began pointing to him as also among the suspects in the McDonald’s bombing. Several days later, Suryadi had morphed into a link between the networks of militant Muslims in Makassar and Banten, where Imam Samudra was based.

The public has never seen the videotaped confessions of Suryadi. No transcripts are also available. This writer, however, was able to view some of these taped confessions, and noted that even then, Suryadi had already denied that Imam Samudra had ordered him to bomb churches in Manado. He did acknowledge having a single chance meeting with Samudra, but he said that he had agreed with the police’s scenario about the church bombings only because he was “under pressure.” Later in the tape, Suryadi would say that he could not stand being “beaten.”

On the videotape, there was no visible mark of a beating on Suryadi, except for an angry welt at the base of his neck. But his cellmate in Manado, Ronald Monoafra, told this writer that Suryadi had been punched while handcuffed and threatened with a metal chair leg. Cigarettes were also extinguished on his flesh. According to Ronald, Suryadi had extreme difficulty moving afterward, and his urine was laced with blood for a week. Suryadi had prayed for death to claim him because he was in so much pain, said Ronald.

Interestingly, almost all of the 24 other people accused of plotting and executing the McDonald’s bombing with also claimed that the police had extracted confessions from them by force. In the meantime, the primary suspect in the assault of a moneychanger in Manado – the incident that had brought Suryadi to the police’s attention – remains at large.

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