Asia's top terror suspect, Hambali, went on trial yesterday along with eight other alleged Muslim militants on charges of attempted murder in an alleged plot to bomb targets in Cambodia.
Hambali -- an al-Qaeda linked leader in Southeast Asia -- and four other foreigners identified only as Rousha Yasser, Ibrahim, Zakariya and Zaid were being tried in absentia. But an Egyptian, two Thais and a Cambodian Muslim appeared at the municipal court yesterday.
Prosecutor Yet Chakriya accused the nine suspects of "attempted premeditated murder with the goal of terrorism." He did not elaborate.
The charge carries a sentence of life imprisonment.
Those present at the trial were Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali of Egypt, Abdul Azi Haji Chiming and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading of Thailand, and Cambodian Sman Ismael.
They were arrested in May and June last year for alleged links with Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian arm.
Cambodian police had broken up their Umm al-Qura group, which operated a Saudi-funded school outside Phnom Penh.
The four were tried in February on an initial charge of terrorism. But a judge adjourned the proceedings and ordered a new probe after the suspects' attorney argued that Cambodia had no anti-terrorism law under which his clients could be prosecuted.
The judge, Ya Sokhan, changed the charge to "attempted premeditated murder with the goal of terrorism." It was at that session that Hambali and four other foreign fugitives were mentioned as suspects facing the same charge.
Hambali, an Indonesian whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, is said to be a key leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. He reportedly spent several months in Cambodia last year.
He also tried to use Cambodia as a base from which to launch regional terror attacks.
He was arrested in Thailand last August and is now being held by U.S. officials at an undisclosed location.
Tuesday's trial followed the crackdown on the Umm al-Qura group.
Prosecutors accused its members of using the school as a cover for training terrorists and planning attacks against Western interests in Cambodia, especially the US.
Sman Ismael, the Cambodian Muslim, has maintained his innocence and said he was acquainted with the Umm al-Qura group only when he attended an Islamic religious seminar it organized in 2000.
It is not clear yet how long the trial will last.