Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja – Straits Times Indonesia
As more details emerged about the alleged mastermind of a church bombing plot uncovered last Thursday, his close friends and colleagues expressed disbelief about his role in the terror plan.
Friends of journalist Pepi Fernando, 30, told reporters last night that he would make the most unlikely terrorist because he is pro-secular and counts Christians among his good friends.
By last Friday, police had rounded up 20 men already linked to the plot to bomb a church in West Java during a morning service on Good Friday.
Police found bombs weighing up to 150kg, set to blow using a timer and a mobile phone, placed near a gas pipeline near the church.
Fernando, who graduated from Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University with a major in Islamic religious education, was arrested in Aceh with two alleged accomplices last Thursday.
Television cameraman Imam Firdaus, to whom Fernando allegedly offered exclusive coverage of the planned attack in Serpong, West Java, was arrested a day later.
Police said Fernando was the financier and bomb-maker in the failed terror plot as well as a string of recent mail bomb attacks. Police also revealed that his wife is a civil servant and works in the National Narcotics Agency.
Asked about Fernando, Maman Suherman, 45, his former boss at Avicom agency, said last night: ‘Pepi’s closest friend, our cameraman, is a Christian, and Avicom is owned by a Catholic.
‘If he really were a terrorist, he must be a great actor. Pepi even often slept over at his Christian best friend’s parents’ house. And all of a sudden, he’s a bomb mastermind?
‘Was all that just his cover?’
Maman said Fernando was a journalist at Avicom, which produces advertisements, soap operas and documentary films for television stations, for about a year from 2006.
Prior to that, he had worked for another agency that produces celebrity news for local television station SCTV. It was during his time there from early 2000 that he became close friends with the Christian cameraman.
Maman said Fernando had left Jakarta for Aceh in 2007, at the invitation of his former school mates, as he wanted to volunteer in post-tsunami relief efforts.
‘Then (later) Pepi showed up in Jakarta and offered Avicom a project. He said he had a concept to make a documentary that would feature interviews with families affected by (the 2004) tsunami in Aceh,’ said Maman, production director of Avicom.
‘We didn’t take it, but later we knew he made the film and it was broadcast on national TV. (There were) about 30 episodes. Pepi made 3 million rupiah (S$430) each episode. But that was then.’
Yesterday, police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said in a statement that anti-terror police and bomb squad personnel had seized dozens of explosives from Fernando’s house in Bekasi, West Java.
‘Seized evidence included one grenade, a mixture of explosive materials, an empty rocket casing, five (homemade) bombs in cans, and several empty casings supposedly to be used as bomb casings,’ the statement said.
Police suspected that Pepi hit on the idea to directly involve journalists in the plot so as to gain maximum publicity.
Preliminary investigations showed that he had learned to make bombs from books and on the Internet.
The suspects picked up in connection with the Good Friday bomb plot are mostly university graduates with no clear links to any major terrorist or extremist networks, police have said.
The men, most of whom are in their 30s and come from well-off families, are said to be part of a new trend of terrorists who are not members of known terrorist groups, and who instead form loose groups which may be in contact with old terrorist networks.
According to an International Crisis Group (ICG) report, these loose structures and ‘individual jihadists’ are emblematic of the evolving type of terrorists in Indonesia.
Terrorism expert Sidney Jones, who is also a senior adviser to the ICG, said last night she was sceptical about Fernando’s claim to have gone to Aceh for tsunami-related volunteer work.
‘Why go there in 2007 when the tsunami occurred in late 2004? There is a missing link here,’ she said.
Ms Jones noted it was a myth that only the uneducated and the poor could fall into terrorism.
Citing the case of slain Jemaah Islamiah bomb-maker Noordin Top, she said people involved in Noordin’s cells here were those who graduated from top universities in Indonesia.
In a continuing swoop, police reportedly raided a house in Cirebon, the home town of suicide bomber Muhammad Syarif, who blew himself up during Friday prayers two weeks ago, and detained one more man for questioning in relation to the Good Friday terror plot.
This man, who is identified in local reports as ‘D’, lives about 500m away from a police station and had been in contact with Muhammad Syarif before the suicide bombing, according to Kompas.com, which quoted unnamed police sources.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 2553 5055.