Fri, May 30, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Court appearance gives glimpse into terror group

MILITANT NETWORK Cleric Abu Bakar Bashir and four suspects in the Bali bombing described the ties between Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda


An Islamic cleric and four of his subordinates appeared in court here on Wednesday in an unusual glimpse of the inner workings of the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah and of its links to al-Qaeda.

The cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, 64, who is on trial for treason, sat impassively in the heavily guarded courtroom as, one by one, four of the suspects in the Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people last year described their relationship to him and to top leaders of al-Qaeda.

One defendant in the Bali case, Ali Ghufron -- better known as Mukhlas, and considered to be the operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah -- said he knew Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's founder, well. He denied that bin Laden was involved in the blast at a Bali nightclub last October.

The point of Wednesday's appearances was supposed to be an effort by the Indonesian prosecutors to link Bashir to the Bali bombing.

Four of the key suspects in the Bali case, who are all followers of Bashir, were flown from the island of Bali on Wednesday to appear as witnesses at his trial.

Bashir, who is described by Indonesian officials as the founder and spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, is on trial for treason for trying to set up an Islamic state that would incorporate Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. He is accused of approving the bombing of churches across Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000 and of having approved of a failed effort to attack the US Embassy in Singapore.

He has not been charged in the Bali case, however. Last weekend, the chief investigator in the Bali case, Made Mangku Pastika, told reporters that he hoped Wednesday's proceedings would establish a link between Bashir and the Bali case.

But while the four suspects said they knew Bashir, they all denied that Bashir had anything to do with the Bali bombing.

Confirming investigators' beliefs about the organizational chart of Jemaah Islamiyah, Mukhlas said he had taken over from Hambali, the group's former operations chief, after Hambali was pursued by the police and fled Malaysia. Hambali is considered by American officials to have been al-Qaeda's chief operative in Southeast Asia and is now at large.

Another defendant, Hutomo Pamungkas, known as Mubarok, said he had studied the use of weapons and explosives in Pakistan from 1991 to 1994. He later spent time in Mindanao in the Philippines teaching warfare at a camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Cotabato.

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