THE TERRORIST'S WIFE: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE WIFE OF THE MAN CHARGED WITH THE BALI BOMBING
by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
JAKARTA - How do you feel when your beloved husband is suddenly arrested, dragged to jail, and then nationally publicized as the chief suspect in the Bali terrorist bombing that killed 202 people last October?
The answer might come from Paridah binti Abas, a Malaysian citizen who currently lives in the small and remote hamlet of Bendo in the Klaten area of Central Java, about 250 miles southeast of Jakarta, a community of dozens of farmhouses surrounded by paddy fields.
Paridah's husband, Ali Ghufron, whom she has not seen since his arrest last December, brought the whole family to Bendo about 40 days after the bombing. He is now on trial with his brothers Amrozi, who bought the car that exploded in Bali, and Ali Imrom, who helped make the bombs that blew up a nightclub where hundreds of young Australians and Americans were celebrating. All face the death penalty.
"He came here by himself and the following day his wife and their children arrived," said a landowner, Lestari, who like many Indonesians uses just one name and has testified at Ghufron's trial.
Ghufron, an Indonesian citizen, was allegedly involved with the shadowy Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist organization. A small man with goatee beard, Ghufron is also known by his nom-de-guerre, "Mukhlas." Indonesian police arrested Ghufron on December 9, 2002. They had conducted surveillance on Paridah's house in Bendo but did not find him there.
Ali Ghufron rented Lestari's two-room pavilion, a sort of raised hut. He used one room as a bedroom where Paridah and her five children sleep. The other small room is used as a kitchen, a dining room, and also a living room. At a corner in this small room, the family put a gas stove and some cooking utensils. Paridah's eldest daughter usually fries chicken nuggets there.
The wall is bare and the floor is covered with plastic carpet. There is no television set, although Paridah keeps a few reading materials there, which include some Indonesian novels. One that she was reading last week was novelist Ahmad Tohari's "Jentera Bianglala." Tohari writes about the desperate and sometimes hopeless struggle of Indonesian working people.
Other team of police officers, however, managed to arrest the long-hunted Ghufron in another house also in Klaten. But the first police team grew suspicious when they first heard Paridah speaking with her broken Bahasa Indonesia, the national tongue. The national languages of both Malaysia and Indonesia are derived from Malay, a "lingua franca" widely spoken in South East Asia. But the two languages, however, diverged when the two countries became independent at the end of the World War II.
When asked for her ID card, Paridah produced an Indonesian identification card with her photo in which her name was printed "Khodijah." The ID card was issued on Karimun, a small island in Riau, near Singapore. Prosecutors in Klaten recently produced documents from the Malaysian embassy to officials in Jakarta that declare Paridah a Malaysian national. The prosecutors indicated that she had violated Indonesia's immigration law.
Paridah, 33, is a Singapore-born Malaysian citizen who married Ghufron in 1990. According to prosecutor Tri Karyono, Paridah had never shown her passport to the police officers who arrested her but admitted later to being a Malaysian citizen. She admitted entering Indonesia in June 2002 band overstaying her three-month tourist visa until she was briefly arrested last December. The police only detained her for a few hours and then released the heavily pregnant Paridah to stay in the two-room hut rented by her husband in December.
"Ghufron seemed to be a polite person with good manners. The next day Ghufron brought his wife and their five children," Lestari testified later. He said the police arrested Paridah at about 3 a.m., several hours after the arrest of her husband. Neighbors and police said Paridah's family document was fake. In the document her husband's name was Sofian - rather than Ali Ghufron.
Muhammad Thoyib Budi Atmojo, Lestari's father and himself an informal leader in the Bendo neighbourhood, testified that the villagers believed that the couple were law-abiding citizens, and especially religious. Paridah work a dark veil to cover her whole body in the conservative Muslim tradition.
The closest town to Bendo is Klaten. It is only three miles away but Paridah down't own a car; the family has to take public transportation to reach Klaten and it takes half an hour to cover the distance.
Her trial sessions are held in Klaten. Every week Paridah has to leave her hamlet for Klaten, where there are government buildings, a courthouse, police station, various stores, news kiosks, a bus station and bigger schools.
Paridah currently lives in Bendo with her four daughters and one son who are aged between two and 11 years old. Under Indonesian law, she cannot leave Klaten while the court proceeding is underway. Her three eldest children, however, are still registered in public schools in Lamongan, an Indonesian town about a four-hour car drive from Klaten, where their paternal grandparents live.
Ali Ghufron was born and raised in the village of Tenggulun in Lamongan. It was here that Indonesian police initially arrested Amrozi, Ghufron's younger brother, who bought the car that exploded in Bali last October as well as the fertilizer to make it.
Another younger brother, Ali Imron, was also arrested while trying to escape Indonesia. Imron admitted that he helped make the deadly bombs in Bali that killed 202 people. These three brothers had visited Pakistan and Afghanistan, and fought in the latter country as "mujahidin" against the army of the former Soviet Union, eventually forcing it to withdraw.
Paridah never calls her husband by his real name, Ali Ghufron. Instead, she usually refers to him as "Mukhlas" - his nom-de-guerre - or Abi, which in Arabic means "father."
Arab culture is indeed a vital part of this family. The children also call Paridah by the Arabic word, "Umi," or mother. The seventh of nine children, Paridah was born in Singapore in 1970. Her parents still live in Johor Bahru. Now she is eight months pregnant.
Below are excerpts of our interview:
AR: How did you get married to Ali Ghufron?
It was my father who asked him to marry me. My father is a straightforward person. He wanted me to marry someone whom he knows to be a responsible person. So my father asked him, "Do you want to marry my daughter? If you want to, just say yes, without asking me to let you meet my daughter first."
It was an aggressive proposal indeed. But Mukhlas said yes. He initially did not know that I also had gone to study in a madrasah. We got married in Malaysia in 1990. Mukhlas got a permanent residence permit from the Malaysian government.
Our five children were all born in Malaysia. It is a pity that our next child is to be born in Indonesia. If I could choose, I prefer to deliver the baby in Malaysia. It is nice to be close to my family. Here I have no one.
AR: Your family moved quite often. How do the children deal with this?
Even in Malaysia we lived in several places. The children moved from one school to another. But we're a close-knit family. The children are fluent in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. Their father taught them to speak Arabic and I sometimes teach them to speak English. I just moved to Lamongan from Malaysia in June 2002.
Prior to our moving, Abi had already stayed in Indonesia for two years because of his father's illness. So he kept on moving between Malaysia and Indonesia. I told him it is better for him to stay in Indonesia. The children and I would follow. So he began to live in Lamongan either in June or July 2001.
AR: You are facing trial [on her immigration] and your husband is in prison. How are the children?
We have five children. The eldest one goes to two different schools: a madrasah in the evening and junior high school in the morning in Lamongan. The second, the third, and the fourth are respectively in
Grade Six, Grade Five, and Grade Four. The fifth is still staying at
home. Prior to the court sessions, they all lived with their
grandparents in Lamongan. I asked them to move in here when the sessions
began. Financially it is difficult with these children, but I receive
financial assistance from my family.
AR: What did you do prior to your marriage?
I taught in a madrasah. I translated the Koran and taught in a kindergarten. When my husband helped develop the Lukmanul Hakim boarding school in Johor Baru, he asked me to teach there. "Umi, you'd better teach here," he said. So I moved to Lukmanul Hakim.
When the Malaysian government closed the school in early 2002, my husband was not working at the madrasah anymore. He left the school in 1997 to concentrate in the development of an Islamic boarding school in Lamongan.
But sometimes he was still asked to help in Lukmanul Hakim. He was once asked to visit Pakistan to learn about a school in Pakistan where some graduates would be sent to continue their studies. I taught at the Lukmanul Hakim until the closure. I cannot teach here, as I have no permit in Indonesia. I could only raise some money by selling cakes in the neighborhood.
AR: How do the children react to their father's arrest and the allegation that he is a Jemaah Islamiyah leader?
The children learned about the arrest from the media. It has no impact. They still go to school. Nobody jeers them at schools. Sometimes they feel angry toward the police. But I told them that the police only did what they are supposed to do. Now I am telling them that whatever the result of the trial, whether he is right or he is wrong, whether he is punished or not, the most important thing that we have to do is we understand the person himself.
Do we know Abi? Yes we know Abi as a religious person. The children know their father as a good person. "If we are patient, Abi will be calmed," I told the children. I myself am strong enough to face this temptation. We learned about justice, didn't we?
Abi and I could only send letters. The police do not allow me to
AR: Ghufron might face death sentence in the trial?
We already know it. Everyone already knows that. But the court decision will not alter the children's view. They have very close relations. Their father was also close to them. When he was home, they usually spent time together. They went out fishing and even climbing trees, both the boy and the girls. He also cooked at home. He is a modern man. I always told them to respect their father. Since the very beginning, we tried to build a family in accordance with what the Prophet taught.
Now we only have the memory of our father. Indeed, we miss him. The children and I can only be nostalgic about Abi. Sometimes we like to say, "Abi used to do that, Abi used to do this." The best memory is indeed on going fishing with Abi.
When they feel blue or miss their father, I usually asked them to write letters. If the letters are too sentimental, I usually keep them, not sending them to the prison.
I myself have to carefully watch over my feeling. I never show my sadness in front of the children. I should not show my weaknesses. How do I do it? Well, I write and write.
My motivator is the Koran. A Koranic verse said we should not be sad. We should be strong.
American Reporter Correspondent Andreas Harsono, based in Jakarta, has written for AR since 1996 and won a Neiman International Fellowship at Harvard for 1999-2000. The day after the Oct. 12, 2003, Bali bombing, Harsono also interviewed the then-chief suspect, Abu Bakar Bashir, for The American Reporter. Bashir is now charged with trying to overthrow the Indonesian government and setting up the regional Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist network. That trial, in which Mukhlas and four other men are also charged, begins in Jakarta on April 23.