AN INDONESIAN court has declared Jemaah Islamiah an illegal organisation while jailing two of its leading figures, in a move that could foreshadow a total crackdown on the radical network.
Until now, the Indonesian Government has refused to ban JI, despite members of the network being found responsible for both Bali bombings and a string of other terrorist attacks. Ministers said a ban was impractical as JI was not a "formal organisation". Yesterday the South Jakarta District Court sentenced JI's former leader Zarkasih and military commander Abu Dujana to 15 years on terrorism charges. "JI, as a corporation which one of the caretakers is the defendant, has been declared a forbidden corporation," Chief Judge Wahjono said.
The "caretaker" - Dujana - was convicted of possessing and hiding ammunition and explosives with the intention of committing terrorist acts. He was also found guilty of giving money to and hiding perpetrators of terrorism, including the Bali bombings mastermind, Noordin Top.
Zarkasih was jailed for becoming the spiritual leader of the organisation in 2004 and endorsing violence against Christians in the province of Poso. Both were arrested last year in a series of raids assisted by the Australian Federal Police.
Declaring JI banned could allow other members of the network to be arrested and will place immense pressure on the Indonesian Government to endorse the ban.
The terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna described the move as "a huge victory against terrorism" and would empower police actions against the network.
"This will have a direct impact on the leadership of JI, the most lethal terrorist group in South-East Asia," he said.
"Unless a terrorist was about to commit an attack, or had committed an attack, the Indonesian police couldn't arrest them. Today if anyone is distributing propaganda and that person is linked to JI, that person can be arrested."
Dr Gunaratna called on the Indonesian Government to enact new legislation "so they will have a legal framework" to fight JI. "The most important thing is that the decision of the court be implemented by the Government," said Dr Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism.
Although legal experts were divided on the impact of the court ruling, it is understood it could give police grounds to arrest anyone belonging to JI.
Without an official government ban, any arrests would be subject to challenge in the courts. Dujana and Zarkasih are likely to appeal to Indonesia's Supreme Court, which may be asked to rule on the validity of the JI ban.
Abu Dujana, the military chief of the group, was arrested in June on charges of keeping explosives and sheltering fugitives wanted for a series of deadly attacks in Indonesia.
Zarkasih, who was arrested only days after Dujana, was the alleged amir, or leader, of the group from 2005 until last year. Their arrests were regarded as a major blow for the group, blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings in which 202 people were killed, as well as many other attacks in Indonesia.
The chief judge, Wahjono, said Dujana had been sentenced to 15 years in jail for rifles and ammunition possession and funding and harbouring other group members.
The judges also sentenced Zarkasih to 15 years' jail for his membership of JI and "evil conspiracy in terror activities".
An earlier charge sheet said that Zarkasih, nicknamed Mbah, had received military training in Pakistan in the late 1980s and taught map reading at a Muslim rebel camp in the southern Philippines in 1998.