Sat, 03 Jun 2000

Laskar Jihad link in Nganjuk blast negated

SURABAYA (JP): A survivor and prime witness of Tuesday's car blast in Nganjuk has denied any links with the Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah (Jihad Force) and said he thought he was only transporting foodstuff.

Nasruddin Adi Sucipto, 19, -- one of the four passengers of a Suzuki minivan which exploded while carrying a load of munitions -- was arrested by local police at a relative's house in Kedungrejo, Geneng district in Ngawi regency, on Thursday morning.

Adi's brother-in-law, Rifzikka Helta, was the driver of the van and died instantly in the blast which occurred in Nganjuk, 130 kilometers southwest of here.

According to Nganjuk Police chief Lt. Col. Nyoman Bratajaya, during police questioning Adi rejected suggestions that he was a member of Laskar Jihad.

"Adi even persisted that he had no idea the van was carrying ammunition and grenades," Bratajaya said.

"Adi said his brother told him that the boxes contained snacks and food and that Helta asked him to help sell it in Surabaya.

"Apart from that Adi said he used to sell perfume which was bought in the Sunan Ampel area in Surabaya," Bratajaya told the media on Friday.

The officer also revealed that Adi only admitted to being a codriver in the van.

However, it was ascertained that Helta had previously spent two weeks in Ambon.

"But Adi said that he had no knowledge of Helta's activities. Adi is still in shock and suffering burn wounds in his right thigh. He's being detained in Nganjuk," Bratajaya added.

Adi was sitting in the back of the van with another survivor, Azmi Ishaq, 32, a student of the Al Ikhlas Pesantren (Islamic boarding school) in Jember, East Java.

Azmi is in critical condition in hospital due to severe burns.

Besides Helta, the second passenger killed in the blast has been identified as Wiji, a local from Jl. Magelang in Yogyakarta.

East Java Police detectives found pieces of a Belgian-made grenade, a homemade bomb, hundreds of rounds of 5.56 millimeter bullets for M-16 rifles and an assortment of bullets of various calibers ranging from 6.3 mm to 9 mm in remnants of the explosion.

Police have not ruled out the possibility that the munitions were leftover from weapons smuggled through Tanjung Perak seaport to Ambon.

Nganjuk Police also discovered several handwritten and printed documents, one of which contains a call for people to join the Jihad Force and raise funds for the jihad movement in Maluku.

In a related development, Yogyakarta Police also found sharp weapons, boots, an iron pole and two kilograms of gunpowder in Helta's rented house in Mulungan, Sleman, north of Yogyakarta, Sleman Police chief Lt. Sumar said on Friday.

None of Helta's neighbors were willing to talk to the media. They only said Helta was a good Muslim, was married to Siti Juwarni, Adi's sister, and had two children.

Helta's family lawyer Iwan Satriawan, however, criticized the police action, saying that Helta's alleged link to Laskar Jihad is "baseless".

Later in the day, spokesman of Yogyakarta-based Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah Ayip Syafruddin denied the group's involvement in the blast.

"None of the four victims (of the blast) were Laskar Jihad members. The documents found by the police were public documents which we issued as a call for a jihad and to collect funds. We really hope for a fair investigation here," Ayip said. (44/swa/nur/edt)