Aris Sumarsono a.k.a. Zulkarnaen

Aris Sumarsono, also known as Zulkarnaen, is a U.S.- and U.N.- designated terrorist and military commander for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).“Zulkarnaen,” U.S. Department of State Rewards for Justice, accessed December 17, 2020, https://rewardsforjustice.net/english/zulkarnaen.html; “Aris Sumarsono,” United Nations Security Council, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/zulkarnaen. He is linked to several deadly attacks in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people and the 2003 JW Marriott Hotel attack in Jakarta that killed 12.Niniek Karmini, “Indonesia police: Top terror suspect mastermind of attacks,” Associated Press, December 14, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-indonesia-counterterrorism-jakarta-islamic-state-group-6bab71a7261501d065e2a8f9de46c207. On December 10, 2020, Indonesia’s counterterrorism police arrested Zulkarnaen during a raid on a house on the island of Sumatra. “Indonesian Police Arrest Militant Leader Associated with al-Qaida,” Voice of America, December 13, 2020, https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/indonesian-police-arrest-militant-leader-associated-al-qaida; Associated Press, “Indonesian Police Move Top Terror Suspect for Investigation,” Voice of America, December 16, 2020, https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/indonesian-police-move-top-terror-suspect-investigation. He was convicted of withholding information and sheltering an extremist figure and sentenced to 15 years in prison on January 19, 2022. Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto, “Indonesia jails militant from group blamed for Bali bombings,” Reuters, January 19, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/indonesian-militant-linked-bali-bombings-given-15-year-jail-term-judge-2022-01-19; Niniek Karmini, “Indonesian militant gets 15 years in jail over Bali attacks,” Associated Press, January 19, 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/indonesian-militant-15-years-jail-bali-attacks-82344879.

Zulknarnaen received a degree in biology from an Indonesian university. He was a protégé of Abdullah Sungkar, who co-founded JI with Abu Bakar Bashir and established an Islamic religious school called al-Mukmin, where senior JI militants studied.“Zulkarnaen,” U.S. Department of State Rewards for Justice, accessed December 17, 2020, https://rewardsforjustice.net/english/zulkarnaen.html. Zulkarnaen attended al-Mukmin between 1975 and 1981. He was reportedly offered a biology faculty position at the Gadja Madah University in Jogjakarta, but quit in order to train as a jihadist.John Mcbeth, “End of a terror era in Indonesia,” Asia Times, December 14, 2002, https://asiatimes.com/2020/12/end-of-a-terror-era-in-indonesia/. In the 1980s, Sungkar recruited a small group of militants, including Zulkarnaen, to travel to Afghanistan to train at a camp led by mujahideen commander Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.“Zulkarnaen,” U.S. Department of State Rewards for Justice, accessed December 17, 2020, https://rewardsforjustice.net/english/zulkarnaen.html. During Zulkarnaen’s time in Afghanistan, he led a military academy called Camp Saddah for fighters from Southeast Asia, including other JI members, and continued to train there for a decade.“Aris Sumarsono,” United Nations Security Council, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/zulkarnaen.

In the late 1990s, Zulkarnaen reportedly lived in the Malaysian town of Raub, near the capital Kuala Lumpur. He returned to Indonesia in 1999, around the same time as Sungkar and Bashir. The two JI leaders had been living in exile for 17 years prior.John Mcbeth, “End of a terror era in Indonesia,” Asia Times, December 14, 2002, https://asiatimes.com/2020/12/end-of-a-terror-era-in-indonesia/. Before Sungkar’s death in 1999, Zulkarnaen served as an aide to his mentor, reportedly organizing the JI leader’s agenda and helping to organize conferences.“Aris Sumarsono,” United Nations Security Council, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/zulkarnaen.

Zulkarnaen also led a squad of militants called Laskar Khos, or special force, comprised of some 300 recruits who had trained in Afghanistan and the Philippines.“Aris Sumarsono,” United Nations Security Council, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/zulkarnaen. Laskar Khos fighters were involved in the Muslim-Christian conflict that raged in Poso and Ambon between 1998 and 2002, which claimed 6,000 lives.John Mcbeth, “End of a terror era in Indonesia,” Asia Times, December 14, 2002, https://asiatimes.com/2020/12/end-of-a-terror-era-in-indonesia/; Niniek Karmini, “Indonesia police: Top terror suspect mastermind of attacks,” Associated Press, December 14, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-indonesia-counterterrorism-jakarta-islamic-state-group-6bab71a7261501d065e2a8f9de46c207. In August 2003, Zulkarnaen ascended to operations chief of JI following the arrest of his alleged predecessor Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, in Thailand.“Aris Sumarsono,” United Nations Security Council, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/zulkarnaen.

In the early 2000s, JI carried out a series of high-profile terrorist attacks, several of which were later linked to Zulkarnaen. On October 12, 2002, a set of explosions hit two crowded nightclubs, Sari Club and Paddy’s, on the resort island of Bali. The bombings killed 202 people. According to the United Nations, Zulkarnaen helped prepare the bombs.“TIMELINE: Attacks and plots blamed on Jemaah Islamiah in Asia,” Reuters, September 17, 2009, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-militants-timeline-sb-idUSTRE58G29X20090917; “Aris Sumarsono,” United Nations Security Council, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/zulkarnaen. He is also believed to have headed a JI operations section that carried out an attack in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on August 5, 2003. On that day, a car bomb exploded outside of the JW Marriot Hotel, killing 12 people and wounding 150 others.Keith Bradsher, “Deadly Car Bombing Shakes Marriott Hotel in Jakarta,” New York Times, August 5, 2003, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/05/international/asia/deadly-car-bombing-shakes-marriott-hotel-in-jakarta.html; “Aris Sumarsono,” United Nations Security Council, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/zulkarnaen.

According to Indonesian National Police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan, Zulkarnaen was also involved in church attacks throughout Indonesia during Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 2000, which left more than 20 people dead. Ramadhan also said that Zulkarnaen masterminded a 2000 bomb attack on the official residence of the Philippine ambassador in Jakarta that killed two people, a 2004 suicide attack outside at the Australian Embassy that killed nine, and a 2005 bombing in Bali that killed 20.Niniek Karmini, “Indonesia police: Top terror suspect mastermind of attacks,” Associated Press, December 14, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-indonesia-counterterrorism-jakarta-islamic-state-group-6bab71a7261501d065e2a8f9de46c207.

In May 2005, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Zulkarnaen under Executive Order 13224, for being a member of JI’s central command and apparent head of its military section.“Treasury Designated Jemaah Islamiyah’s Emir, Top Bomb Maker and Military Commander,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 12, 2005, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/js2441.aspx. Following suit, the U.N. Security Council added Zulkarnaen to its al-Qaeda sanctions list for his ties to the global terrorist network, as well as association with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. When he was listed, Zulkarnaen was believed to be one of al-Qaeda’s representatives in Southeast Asia and one of the few Indonesians who had direct contact with bin Laden’s network.“Aris Sumarsono,” United Nations Security Council, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/zulkarnaen. The U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program also offered up to $5 million for Zulkarnaen’s arrest.“Zulkarnaen,” U.S. Department of State Rewards for Justice, accessed December 17, 2020, https://rewardsforjustice.net/english/zulkarnaen.html.

On December 10, 2020, Indonesia’s counterterrorism police arrested Zulkarnaen during a raid on a house in East Lampung district on the island of Sumatra. He had evaded arrest for more than 18 years.“Indonesian Police Arrest Militant Leader Associated with al-Qaida,” Voice of America, December 13, 2020, https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/indonesian-police-arrest-militant-leader-associated-al-qaida; Associated Press, “Indonesian Police Move Top Terror Suspect for Investigation,” Voice of America, December 16, 2020, https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/indonesian-police-move-top-terror-suspect-investigation. He was transferred to Jakarta on December 16.Associated Press, “Indonesian Police Move Top Terror Suspect for Investigation,” Voice of America, December 16, 2020, https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/indonesian-police-move-top-terror-suspect-investigation.

The trial against Zulkarnaen began in September 2021, at the East Jakarta District Court. During testimony, Zulkarnaen claimed he was not involved in the 2002 Bali bombings. Convicted militants corroborated his claims, arguing that Zulkarnaen knew of the plot in Bali but did not play a role in the operation.Niniek Karmini, “Indonesian prosecutors delay sentence for top terror suspect,” Associated Press, December 29, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/al-qaida-indonesia-southeast-asia-asia-jemaah-islamiyah-05301bd408e9ddcb45b4a94459d5b39a. On January 19, 2022, the presiding judge sentenced Zulkarnaen to 15 years in prison after he was found guilty of withholding information and sheltering an extremist figure. The three-judge panel abstained from issuing a charge related to the Bali bombings because the statute of limitations had expired. Prosecutors, who had sought a life sentence, said they would appeal to a higher court. Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto, “Indonesia jails militant from group blamed for Bali bombings,” Reuters, January 19, 2022, "https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/indonesian-militant-linked-bali-bombings-given-15-year-jail-term-judge-2022-01-19; Niniek Karmini, “Indonesian militant gets 15 years in jail over Bali attacks,” Associated Press, January 19, 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/indonesian-militant-15-years-jail-bali-attacks-82344879.

Also Known As

Extremist entity
Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)
Type(s) of Organization:
Insurgent, non-state actor, religious, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Islamist, jihadist, Qutbist, Salafist, Sunni, takfiri
Position(s):
Military commander, operations chief

JI is a jihadist group in Southeast Asia that seeks to establish a caliphate in the region through violent means. The group is led by its co-founder, Abu Bakar Bashir, who pledged loyalty to ISIS in July 2014. 

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On October 4, 2017, suspected ISIS fighters ambushed a military vehicle convoy outside the village of Tongo Tongo in Tillabéri, Niger. Five Nigeriens, four U.S. soldiers, and at least 21 militants were killed. The attack also left eight Nigeriens and two American troops wounded.   

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