US President Barack Obama has recently ordered the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba within a year. Since then, the fate of the prisoners after their release has been widely discussed. While many countries are pondering on how they are going to deal with their citizens being held in the camp, Indonesia and Malaysia have sought access to their nationals.
Nearly 200 people were killed and hundreds injured in the 2002 Bali blasts
At least three high-profile prisoners of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiya (JI) are expected to return to Indonesia and Malaysia after the closure of the US detention camp Guantánamo Bay. Among them is Riduan Isamudin, also known as Hambali. He is accused of masterminding the blasts on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali in October 2002. He is also blamed for the 2003 blast at Jakarta’s Marriott Hotel.
Because of his alleged contact with Al-Qaeda, 44 year old Hambali was always at the top of the US’s wanted list. He was captured in a US-led operation in Bangkok in August 2003 and was later transferred to Guantánamo Bay.
Apart from Hambali, two other Malaysian terror suspects Mohammed Nazir bin Lep alias Lillie and Mohammed Farik Amin, alias Zubar were also seized because of their alleged links with Jemaah Islamiyah.
Seeking their return for trial
The Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has recently hinted that the government is seeking custody of both of its citizens. Jakarta also insists it wants to interrogate Hambali over alleged links to several attacks in the country.
However, experts believe it is unlikely that the three will return to their countries in the near future. Speaking to Radio Australia, Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group in Jakarta said the judiciary systems of both Malaysia and Indonesia are not prepared to deal with such terror suspects:
“I don't think they would be brought back, unless there was an absolute guarantee that they would get heavy sentences in the countries they were returning to and you can't guarantee that absolutely in a democratic system. But I think the police in Indonesia in particular would have to be pretty clear that they could secure a conviction on the basis of the evidence that they've got, and unless that happened, I don't think they would see them going back anytime soon.”
Can they revive JI?
Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism at the University of Nanyang in Singapore, believes the return of the three suspects to Malaysia and Indonesia will pose a greater danger:
“Hambali, Liliie, and Zubair are not only JI, in fact Lillie and Zubair were before members of Kumpulan militant Malaysia and later they joined JI and eventually they joined Al-Qaeda. Hambali served on one of the committees of Al-Qaeda. So these are very dangerous people and they should be dealt with appropriately.”
The Jemaah Islamiya has been significantly weakened in recent years. Some of its top members have been arrested and the organization's regional infrastructure has largely been destroyed.
But can the return of these suspects lead to the revival of the group? Expert Sidney Jones has her doubts:
“I don't think it would lead to a new revival of the organisation or a new interest in planning acts of terror. I do think that at some level, these people would be regarded as heroes in the radical community, in part because of the treatment they received at the hands of their American captors.”
Jakarta has, in the past, been criticized for the light sentence it handed down to Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged former spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. Bashir was convicted of links to the Bali Blasts, but was released after 18 months of imprisonment. He currently runs an Islamic school in Solo, in Central Java and has repeatedly made calls for a Jihad.