The Muslim militant suspected of building the bombs used in the 2002 Bali attack went on trial yesterday on terrorism charges, a year after he was captured in the same Pakistani town where slain al--Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was hiding.
Umar Patek is the top remaining suspect in the Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people about a year after the Sept. 11 attacks and brought international attention to an al-Qaeda-linked group intent on creating a pan--Islamic state throughout Southeast Asia.
Three masterminds in the attack already have been tried and executed, and authorities have made big strides in dismantling their regional terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah.
However, Patek, nicknamed “Demolition Man” by Indonesian investigators, escaped the country after the attack and went on a nine-year flight from justice that took him to the Philippines and Pakistan, allegedly in pursuit of more terror opportunities.
Patek was captured in January last year in Abbottabad, where US Navy Seals would kill bin Laden just a few months later. Patek was then one of Asia’s most wanted terror suspects, with a US$1 million bounty on his head.
The trial could shed light on what Patek was doing in Abbottabad.
Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro has said he was believed to be trying to meet with bin Laden, but Patek has denied that, saying he was on way to seek shelter in Afghanistan. US and Pakistani investigators have suggested Patek’s stay in Abottabad was pure coincidence.
Patek, who also is accused in a string of Christmas Eve bombings at churches in 2000 that claimed 19 lives, was tightly guarded as he entered the West Jakarta District Court yesterday.
He smiled to reporters and photographers, but did not respond to questions shouted by journalists. Wearing a white robe and a white skullcap, Patek, 45, sat quietly as the indictment was read out by state prosecutors, led by Bambang Suharijadi.
“His involvement in the Bali bombing, as well as the church attacks, were not as big as is being described,” Patek’s chief lawyer, Ashluddin Hatjani, told reporters afterward. “We will challenge that in a defense plea next week.”
Patek, whose real name is Hisyam Bin Alizein and who has several aliases, could face death by firing squad if convicted of the various charges against him.
The indictment includes charges of premeditated murder, hiding information about terrorism, illegal possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit terrorism.
In a re-enactment organized by police in Bali while he was in custody there, Patek showed how he and other conspirators stashed a 700kg bomb in four filing cabinets, and loaded it in a Mitsubishi L300 van, along with a TNT vest bomb.
The van was detonated outside two nightclubs on Bali’s famous Kuta beach.
Patek left Bali a few days before the Oct. 12 attacks were carried out, while Imam Samudra and two other masterminds of the Bali attacks — brothers Amrozi Nurhasyim and Ali Ghufron — were caught, tried and executed.