Farouk Arnaz & Elisabeth Oktofani
International news network Al Jazeera has confirmed that it had prior knowledge of a planned Good Friday bombing in Jakarta and informed Indonesian authorities about the plot.
The confirmation came after news emerged that the National Police were planning to question Al Jazeera cameraman Bobby Gunawan in connection with the plot to bomb Christ Cathedral and a military facility in Serpong, Tangerang, on April 22.
According to the police, Bobby was approached by Imam Firdaus, a cameraman with local broadcaster Global TV, and offered exclusive rights to film and broadcast the bombing. However, Bobby turned down the offer.
Imam and the suspected bombing mastermind, Pepi Fernando, have both been arrested and named suspects.
Osama Saeed, a spokesman at the news network’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar, told the Jakarta Globe that Al Jazeera was informed on April 7 that a group was planning a bomb attack in Jakarta in the “next two weeks.”
“The information we received was incomplete and it was unclear whether the source was credible. The information was passed onto the authorities,” Saeed said.
“Al Jazeera were informed that the authorities were aware of the matter and that it was being dealt with.”
The police said on Sunday that Bobby would be questioned as a witness, but that there was a possibility he would be named a suspect. He could be charged with abetting a crime if it is found that he failed to notify the authorities.
“We want to be very careful when we deal with this case,” a police source said.
“We do not want to spark controversy, particularly because we know that the press has every right to keep their sources confidential. We believe, however, that in the case of terrorist activities, [if the press has prior information] they should report this to the police. Why protect sources or even think about running an exclusive story?”
Seventeen suspects are now being held in connection with the foiled bombing.
Among those being detained are Pepi, believed to be a proponent of the extremist Indonesian Islamic State (NII) movement, which advocates the establishment of a caliphate in Indonesia.
Pepi was also reportedly behind the spate of book bombs sent to prominent figures last month, including Gories Mere, a former counterterrorism official and now head of the National Narcotics Agency (BNN). Pepi’s wife, Deni Carmelita, a BNN employee, has been arrested as an accessory.
Police said they had not found a link between those arrested and known terrorist groups in the country. They have dubbed the band of alleged radicals “Pepi’s Group.”