Bomber's grave becomes touchstone for extremists

Bomber's grave becomes touchstone for extremists
Rallying point?: The grave of terrorist Imam Samudra in Serang, Banten.

As the only grave without a tombstone in the Lopang Gede cemetery in Serang, Banten, the resting place of Imam Samudra, one of the masterminds of the first Bali bombing, appears deserted and forgotten.

Tucked away amid groves of immature bamboo trees, the grave is half-concealed by stones and pebbles.

The word "Imam" is written in blue paint on one of the stones, though the writing is barely visible beneath the fallen bamboo leaves.

And yet, despite its modesty, visits to the grave have become popular among budding extremists looking to follow in the Imam's footsteps.

"There have been unabated flows of visitors who come to see the grave and pray for Imam," Imam's younger sister, Mila Jamilah, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

"Many take some of the soil and pocket the stones from Imam's grave [for superstitious purposes]. We have to regularly pour new soil and stones at the grave site," she said.

Imam was executed in late 2008 for orchestrating the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

Mila said the modest grave was one of her brother's last wishes before facing the firing squad.

"He did not want us to put a tombstone at his grave," she said.

Imam's mother, Embay Badriah, who lives about 500 meters from the cemetery, said she had regularly received visitors who expressed their sympathy for Imam's "struggle".

"Visitors usually come to [Imam's] grave after dusk. Then they come here to meet me and have a conversation. Some of them ask questions like 'where are Imam's children now and what they are doing'," the 73-year-old mother of 11 said.

Despite affiliating with the moderate Persis (United Islam) group and the nation's second-biggest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, Embay said she took the opportunity to sell books about Imam and his radical beliefs to help make ends meet.

Imam's name still resonates widely in Serang, a city located some 90 kilometers from Jakarta that is predominately moderate in its religious orientation, with many residents embracing a syncretized form of Islam that incorporates Sundanese animism.

A group of children playing near the cemetery complex quickly guided the Post to the grave site, accustomed to strangers arriving and wanting to visit the grave.

Despite their warm welcome, people in the Lopang Gede neighborhood were reluctant to share their thoughts about Imam and his family members.

"You'd better talk directly to the family," said a male resident, pointing to a nearby house belonging to one of Imam's sisters.

Having grown up in the neighborhood, Imam, who was born as Abdul Azis, saw his parent split up when he was a child.

He later became deeply immersed in Islamic teachings and was nurtured by Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the leader of the terrorist network, Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).

In a court hearing, Imam said he had a moral obligation to plant the bombs used in the Bali attack.

He said he had learned to assemble bombs and use weapons during three years of fighting in Afghanistan, Thailand and the Philippines.

He boasted of having met Osama bin Laden when he joined Afghan Muslims in their fight against Russian occupation.

Imam and two other organizers of the Bali attack - brothers Amrozi and Ali Ghufron - were later convicted and executed in 2008.

Imam is survived by his wife, Zakiyah Darajat, and four children - Umar Jundul Haq, Salsabila, Tasniem and Iyas Jaisy Muhammad. They live some 20 minutes from Imam's family house.

Embay, who now lives with her youngest son and his family in a modest house, said she rarely met Zakiyah and her children after Imam's execution.

"They visit me only during the Idul Fitri [holiday period] or on school holidays. But they never spend a night here," she said.

On her living room wall, two large pictures of Imam are hung, covered by green cloth.

Embay said she usually let visitors pull back the cloth to see the pictures. One of them shows Imam kissing Embay's hand during the family's last visit to the Nusakambangan prison island prior to his execution.

"Imam is a mujahid [fighter]. If a mujahid is a labelled terrorist, what should we label infidels who kill Muslims?" said Embay, who spends most of her time attending Quran recitals in Serang and neighbouring cities.

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