Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Court hears account on arrest of blast suspect

Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

A police detective gave the public on Wednesday the first real- life account of the difficulties police endured in tracking down and apprehending one of the key suspects in the Bali bombing -- Ali Gufron, alias Muklas.

Adj. Com. Herlan Susilo told the court that police conducted the probe in utmost secrecy, providing the public with sketchy information on the arrests made and suspects detained, but never disclosing the process that led them to the those breakthroughs.

The investigation team, Herlan said, comprised several groups, small mobile units of selected detectives capable of rapid and stealthy seek-and-apprehend operations. There were times when these groups spent several days traveling at high speed across Java to shorten their distance with the fleeing suspects and maintaining the element of surprise.

Herlan was the first Indonesian police officer to testify in the court. He was part of the police's joint inquiry team Group III, tasked with tracking down and apprehending the suspects.

"I grabbed his collar and told him to freeze, but the defendant (Muklas) wrestled back. With his left hand he gripped my testicles and squeezed them hard, while simultaneously his right hand tried to claw away the revolver in the hand of the chief of the Delanggu police precinct," Herlan said.

Muklas was arrested at Kepanjen village, Delanggu district, Klaten, Central Java, at around early Dec. 3, 2002. He was believed to have played a supervising role in the Bali bombings, which left at least 202 people dead.

The struggle took longer than it was supposed to be because the two officers tried not to harm the suspect.

"Two more officers entered the room and joined the scuffle. I told them to grab and lift the defendant's legs, to make him lose his balance. Out of confusion, they took the legs of their chief instead. The chief fell to the ground," Herlan said.

Finally, they managed to take Muklas down, but, refusing to surrender easily, he tried to crawl into the corner of the room towards a black bag, which was later found to contain an FN semi- automatic pistol.

"The pistol was already cocked and had one bullet in the chamber, and we also found eight more bullets. There was a U.S. Army 375573 number engraved on the pistol."

Herlan recalled that Group III embarked on what became a two- month-long operation on Java equipped only with rough eyewitness accounts and blurry information from Amrozi, the first suspect apprehended by police.

The breakthrough came when it succeeded in nabbing Muhammad Najib Nawawi. The suspect later confessed that he had asked his friend Makmuri to provide temporary shelter to an unidentified man at the latter's house in the village of Kepanjen.

During a search of Najib's house, the officers found a picture of Ali Imron, another suspect in the case. Najib confirmed that it was the picture of the man, who was holed up at Makmuri's house.

Herlan hastily went to Kepanjen after acquiring a sketch of the house's inner layout from Najib.

"Accompanied by the chief of the Delanggu police precinct and two officers, we quietly surrounded Makmuri's house," Herlan said.

The head of local neighborhood unit Komari assisted the officers by gaining entry to the house without raising the suspicion of Makmuri's wife, who was in the house.

The moment she opened the door, Herlan rushed to Muklas' room.

"Most of his testimony is true. But at that time he did not know that he had arrested me, Ali Gufron. Later on, when they learned about my identity they said that they were very lucky catching a big fish while fishing for a small one," Muklas commented while grinning widely.

Herlan, who received a special commendation for his role in the bombing investigation, was one of six witnesses summoned to the trial on Wednesday. The other witnesses, included Hutomo Pamungkas, Amrozi, who refused to testify, and Ali Imron.