| Imam Samudra in Bali on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Bali, Sept. 10 (Reuters): An Indonesian court today sentenced a fiery militant to death for masterminding bomb attacks in Bali that it said were aimed at hurting foreigners and taking revenge on the US.
Imam Samudra responded with trademark defiance, shouting “Allah--Akbar” (God is greatest) and punching the air when the verdict was announced. Samudra then struggled with police holding his arms as he tried to turn and face a few survivors and others in the court.
Before being led out, he shouted: “America, Australia go to hell!” at an Australian who waved his national flag adorned with small photographs of the 88 Australians killed in last year’s attacks.
Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer welcomed the verdict, branding Samudra one of the villains of the bombings. One other key suspect has already been sentenced to death over the October 12 attacks, which killed 202 people, mainly Western tourists partying in nightclubs on the resort island.
“The defendant worked behind the scenes as the coordinator so the panel of judges has an opinion that the defendant is the intellectual actor behind the bomb explosions,” judge Isa Sudewi, one of the five-member panel, told the court.
“It was his purpose in order to take revenge against what the US did in Afghanistan.” Defence lawyers said they would appeal.
Most Indonesians follow a moderate form of Islam, and many say Samudra’s radical brand, in which Westerners are seen as enemies and legitimate targets, does their faith an injustice.
The tough sentences sought — and given — so far in the Bali bombing trials have been seen by many as a sign of the secular government’s determination to stamp out militant Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
But some said that impression was undermined last week when a Jakarta court sentenced prominent radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir to four years in prison for treason.
Prosecutors had sought 15 years for Bashir, who some governments say is the spiritual leader of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah militant group, blamed for the Bali attacks.
Samudra, 33, has said he would welcome death. But his lawyers said they would appeal against the verdict on their client, who wore a white Muslim shirt, dark trousers and a black cap.
Executions in Indonesia are by firing squad.
Asked if they would appeal, lawyer Achmad Michdan said:
”Yes. The way they proved the case was far from perfect.”
Samudra slouched in his chair and constantly stroked his wispy beard during the session. He had admitted involvement but had denied playing a pivotal role in the bombings on an island famed for its flower-scented Hindu festivals and golden beaches.
When one judge made a reference to Christianity, Samudra put his fingers in his ears.
Indeed, brashness characterised his demeanour throughout a trial that began on June 2, often angering survivors.
Australian Jan Laczynski from Melbourne, who waved his national flag in court, shouted at Samudra to look at it after the verdict was announced.
”I really feel happy that justice has been done. I feel that the families back home can take some comfort out of what has happened today,” Laczynski said.
Balinese welcomed the verdict.
”He should be executed. That's the only fitting punishment, his behaviour was so vicious,” said security guard I Nyoman Sulendra after he had placed a small floral wreath at a Hindu altar near the destroyed nightclubs.
Prosecutors had accused Samudra of being ground commander of the blasts in nightclubs along Bali's famous Kuta Beach.
Last month, judges imposed the death penalty on Amrozi, the first man arrested for the worst terror attack since the September 11, 2001, strikes on the United States.
More than 30 suspects are on trial over the Bali attacks.