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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Balinese Extremists Garner Support as Martyrs

TENGGULUN, Indonesia -- For most Indonesians, the terrorists awaiting execution for the Bali nightclub blasts that killed 202 people are mass murderers. But their relatives are proud, and say the men will be praised as martyrs after their deaths.

"Things will just explode, you wait and see," said Ali Fauzi, the brother of three of the main players in the 2002 suicide bombings that thrust the world's most populous Muslim nation onto the front lines of Washington's war on terror.

"This village will be crammed with people when their bodies are returned," said Fauzi, whose family is one of several who fill the ranks of the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, showing how important kinship ties are in sustaining the group against an onslaught by security agencies across the region.

The Bali bombings, whose victims were mostly foreign tourists, were the first in a string of attacks in Indonesia blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, which is loosely linked to the al-Qaida network.

After the public outcry that followed another attack on Bali last year, the government decided to speed up the executions of three militants -- brothers Amrozi Nurhasyim and Ali Gufron and associate Imam Samudra -- convicted of bombings. They have confessed to the crime and said they were not afraid of being put to death.

A third brother from the family, Ali Imron, is serving a life sentence for his role in the blasts, but received a lighter punishment because he repented and cooperated with the police. But last month those on death row authorized lawyers to appeal their convictions at the Supreme Court, a move that would avert their planned Aug. 22 execution by firing squad.

Nurhasyim and Ali Gufron grew up in a family of 13 brothers and sisters in Tenggulun, a short drive inland from the northern coast of the main island of Java. Their father was an Islamic activist who formed a hard-line religious boarding school.

At the trials of the accused attackers on the island of Bali, judges heard how Gufron, 46, supervised the bombing, while Amrozi, 44, bought the chemicals and vehicles needed for the attack. Samudra was described as the operational field commander.

"We respect them and their jihad," said their elder brother Muhammad Ghozin, who is the headmaster of the village elementary school and the family spokesman. "If Islam is under attack, then it is every Muslims' duty to defend their faith."

The other brother, Ali Fauzi, also has a militant past, having admitted to a visiting reporter that he was among militants fighting government troops in the Southern Philippines and Christians in eastern Indonesia.

Most people in the village do not share the family's commitment to militancy.

"I will be happy if Amrozi and his brother are killed immediately because they have soiled the reputation of our village," said resident Hari Saktiono. "We are now only famous because of terrorism."

The three bombers trained at militant camps in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, and police have said that al-Qaida helped finance the attack. But the terror group is not thought to have played any role in the planning or execution of the operation.

Indonesia's radical fringe has grown following the downfall of dictator Suharto in 1998, but most of the country's 220 million residents remain moderate. A recent opinion poll suggested nearly 90 percent of Indonesians disapproved of killing civilians in suicide bombings.

Two experts said the three men's death would not be a boost for radical Islam.

"The terrorists are a relatively small and defined group of people and they will be supporters of Amrozi, Gufron and Samudra regardless of whether they are executed," said Tim Lindsay, an expert on Indonesian Islam at the University of Melbourne. "They will be martyrs for that group, but I don't think anyone else will care. Most Indonesians think they are mass killers and they should be executed."

Indonesia last executed an Islamic militant in 1985, when Salman Hafidz was found guilty of attacking a police station as part of a campaign of violence to try and force Indonesia to become an Islamic state. One other member of the same group was executed for hijacking an airliner en route to Thailand.

Abu Bakar Bashir, a hard-line cleric accused by some Western countries of being the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, says the Bali bombers were misguided, but will be regarded as martyrs nevertheless.

"[Their executions] are not fair, even though they made a mistake in carrying out the bombing," said Bashir, who has recently been released from prison after serving 26 months for conspiracy in the attacks. "They are still holy warriors."