National Geographic : 2009 Oct
HE ANSWERS THE DOOR HIMSELF. No armed guards, no attempt to hide. Abu Bakar Baasyir lives in a modest one-story home on the campus of the boarding school he helped found in the quiet village of Ngruki, amid the central highlands of the main Indonesian island of Java. Baasyir is 71 years old, stalk thin, with a white goatee and lively dark eyes magni ed by gold-rimmed glasses. He is the alleged spiritual leader of the militant Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been linked to at least a half dozen bombings in Indonesia over the last decade, including the devastating 2002 Bali nightclub blasts and, perhaps, the suicide bomb- ings at Jakarta luxury hotels this past summer. Baasyir denies involvement in violence and, like a successful ma a don, has avoided a prov- en connection to any attacks. He served two stints in prison---a total of less than four years--- on minor charges not directly related to the bombings. But the Islamic boarding school he established clearly was the hub for a network of jihadists set on creating an Islamic state in Southeast Asia; several of Ngruki s graduates have been convicted of involvement in major bombings. ere s little question that Baasyir s teachings have been the inspiration for hun- dreds, perhaps thousands, of killings and for attacks against "deviant" Muslim groups that fall outside mainstream Islam. Still, he opens his own front door. "Come in," he says, speak- ing Bahasa Indonesia, the country s o cial lan- guage. "Have a glass of juice." He is wearing a long, loose shirt, a white skullcap, and a large wristwatch. ere are no chairs in his living room and no artwork, just clean white walls, a potted plant, and a low table supporting a plastic container of sesame cook- ies. He sits on the floor, barefoot, on a grass green rug. His adult son, Abdul Rahim, serves melon juice in tall, clear glasses. " ere is no violence in Islam," says Baasyir, in his deep, gravelly voice, waving his le hand Michael Finkel reported on Bethlehem in the December 2007 issue. James Nachtwey is a ve-time winner of the Overseas Press Club s Robert Capa Gold Medal.