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Indonesia's risk of making martyrs

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Cilacap

Supporters of the executed men
Supporters of the executed men chant in front of Imam Samudra's home

For men who turned the eyes of the world to Indonesia, it was a small and muted death.

Just a handful of witnesses and a firing squad, hidden away on Indonesia's prison island.

There, in the darkness around midnight, three men convicted of carrying out Indonesia's worst ever bomb attack, were shot though the heart.

It was the end of a six-year story that changed Indonesia, and its place in the world.

That story began in the darkness of another night - 12 October 2002 - on the nearby island of Bali, when bomb attacks ripped through two of the island's busiest nightspots.

More than 200 people died: tourists, taxi drivers, night-club staff.

Among the dead were 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians and 28 Britons.

'Too long'

Or perhaps the story really began earlier, in Java's small villages. With three boys radicalised by a new generation of Islamic warriors - in Afghanistan and elsewhere - who fell in with South-east Asia's network of radical Islamists, al-Jemaah Islamiya.

I saw on the television what they did in Bali - they're international-level terrorists
Sadiman, local resident

Wherever you begin the story, those attacks, carried out in the name of Islam, remade Indonesia's sense of itself - and its relations with others.

And by the time they died tonight, those three men - Amrozi Nurhasyim, his brother Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas) and their colleague, Imam Samudra - had become some of its most famous faces.

It has been a long, unsettled wait for their executions. Most Indonesians - 85% of them Muslim - are firmly behind the death sentences handed down in 2003. Many even complained the government was taking too long.

Just days before the executions were carried out, locals here in the town of Cilacap - the main crossing point to the prison island - were dismissive.

"It's taken too long already," said Agus as he sold soup to crowds gathering outside the crossing point. "They should have been shot a long time ago."

Australian tourists hug at the site of the 2002 bomb blast
Australian tourists hug at the site of the 2002 bomb blast

"The sooner they're executed the better," said Sadiman, another local resident who had come to see the arrival of so many heavily armed police in his tiny town.

"I saw on the television what they did in Bali - they're international-level terrorists."

Some of those years of waiting are the result of legal appeals. Repeated attempts by the men's lawyers to argue that their conviction was unsound; that they had not been given a proper hearing.

A major sticking point has been the fact that the three men were tried and convicted under controversial anti-terrorism legislation passed immediately after the Bali attacks.

Their lawyers argued it could not be used retroactively.

Indonesia's Constitutional Court agreed. But its ruling was ignored by higher panels, and earlier this year the country's chief prosecutor said the three men had finally exhausted all legal avenues of appeal.

Well, not quite all. Amrozi and his colleagues never expressed remorse for the attacks - never regretted killing people they describe as "infidels". That meant they could never appeal to the highest authority in the land - and never asked for a presidential pardon.

Message

And in some ways, killing the three men presents as many problems as it solves.

It has the approval of many Indonesians, but it does not undo the fact that there is a radical minority here that supports what these men did. In fact, it may go some way towards keeping their message alive.

Their deaths may have been low-key but this was a big step for Indonesia

Officials here are said to be nervous about the possible reaction of that minority. Security is tight around key targets across the country, in Jakarta, in Bali, and here at the tiny crossing point of Cilacap.

Having finally carried out these executions, Indonesia is waiting for the response.

For days, the men Indonesia fears have been gathering in the bombers' home villages - small hamlets at opposite ends of Java. Men who see them, not as outcasts, but as misguided martyrs, or even heroes.

They do not all agree with the Bali attacks, but neither do they agree with the executions. Some take the view that village boys like these could not make a bomb that big; that the hand of America or Israel was behind it.

Others make even finer distinctions. One Muslim leader, from the Council of Mujahideen, said he was not sure if the attacks were good or bad, but that the country needed more men like Amrozi; that kaffirs - unbelievers - were the enemies of Islam, and that Muslims should fight them.

It is late at night now, and the island is almost invisible. It sits, thickly black, just off Java's coast; sealed and silent. And the men who made it famous are now waiting to be taken back to their family homes for burial.

Their deaths may have been low-key but this was a big step for Indonesia. Executing men who kill in the name of Islam sends a strong message here - one that most Indonesians agree with.

But it also risks undoing the country's new, hard-won security if, in killing the Bali bombers, Indonesia has also made them into martyrs.

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