Six Indonesian Islamic militants went on trial Wednesday for allegedly planning and instigating a prison riot in West Java province that left a half-dozen people dead, including five police officers, in May 2018.
Prosecutors at the East Jakarta District Court indicted the six defendants on charges of criminal conspiracy and use of violence that caused deaths during the riot, which lasted from May 8 to May 10 that year. All six pleaded not guilty as the indictment was read out to them Wednesday.
The defendants – Suparman, Syawaludin Pakpahan, Suliono, Handoko, Wawan Kurniawan, and Suyanto – are being tried virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They could face the death penalty if convicted under Indonesia’s anti-terrorism laws.
“Beginning in April , defendant Suparman (alias Maher) had been simulating the arrest and ambush of [police] with several other terrorism inmates,” the indictment said, referring to how the defendants had rehearsed for the riot in Depok.
Prosecutors said the defendants began meeting in January 2018 to plan “a terrorist act” in the prison, which is attached to the headquarters of the elite Mobile Brigade (Brimob) police unit near Jakarta. They were being detained or serving sentences for terrorism-related offenses.
The defendants denied being involved in the riot.
“I did not do … what was charged. At that time, I was ill with a gastric reflux,” Suparman told the court when Chief Judge Nelson Jafasar asked him to respond to the indictment. Witness testimony is expected to begin when the trial resumes on July 8.
Five officers and an inmate were killed during the riot that involved 155 prisoners and went on for 40 hours.
At the time, police said the riot was started by a quarrel between a guard and an inmate over food. Officials said rioters attacked guards, seized their weapons and held an officer hostage.
The indictment made no references to the alleged quarrel. Preparations for the riot included physical training and creating duplicate keys, authorities said.
Police said the five dead officers had been tortured with most suffering deep neck wounds and other injuries. Four other officers were injured, including an officer who was taken hostage.
Authorities said the inmates had armed themselves with about 30 weapons taken from an area where the prison stored contraband seized during police operations.
During the riot police allowed the inmates to meet with cleric Aman Abdurrahman, the de facto leader of Indonesian supporters of the Islamic State (IS) terror group, who was being held at the prison. He was sentenced to death a month later following his conviction on charges linked to ordering terror attacks beginning in 2016.
A few days after the riot was put down, a series of terrorist attacks struck Indonesia, including suicide bombings that targeted churches in Surabaya – the country’s second largest city – and that involved two families. Authorities pinned the attacks and the prison riot on Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), the Indonesian affiliate of IS. In all, 48 people were killed.
The combination of the prison riot and the attacks led Indonesia’s parliament to pass revisions to toughen the country’s anti-terrorism law.
Two of the defendants connected to the riot are serving lengthy prison terms for previous convictions on terror-related charges.
Syawaludin, 45, was sentenced to 19 years for killing a policeman in North Sumatra in 2017, while Wawan Kurniawan, the leader of a JAD cell in Pekanbaru on Sumatra Island is serving an 11-year sentence for holding terrorist training exercises.
Last year, a court in Jakarta sentenced Dita Siska Millenia, 18, to two years and eight months after finding her guilty of trying to assist the rioters by coming to the Brimob headquarters in the wake of the riot.
Police arrested Dita and seven others for allegedly trying to storm the prison after the riot. A man who stabbed an officer guarding a post outside the Brimob headquarters was shot and killed.
Police also killed another suspect as he allegedly tried to strangle officers who were arresting him in the nearby town of Bekasi on suspicion that he and others were heading toward the detention center to assist the inmates.
IS claimed that its fighters were responsible for the riot, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based website which monitors extremist activity and communications on social media.