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Terror Suspect Details Cleric's Role in Attacks

Abu Bakar Bashir was Jemaah Islamiah's leader and gave the nod to church and mall bombings in Indonesia, a jailed member testifies.

June 27, 2003|Sari Sudarsono and Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writers

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A jailed member of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network testified Thursday that Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was the group's leader and approved the bombing of churches and a shopping mall in Indonesia.

Faiz Abu Bakar Bafana, a Malaysian who allegedly played a key role in Southeast Asian terrorist plots before his 2001 arrest in Singapore, also said Bashir had called a meeting to plan the assassination of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Bafana's testimony was the most damaging so far in the trial of Bashir, who is accused of treason for his role in terrorist attacks in Indonesia. The 64-year-old cleric denies any part in terrorism and maintains that Jemaah Islamiah does not exist. Authorities say Jemaah Islamiah is affiliated with the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Bafana, testifying by videoconference from detention in Singapore, said he met twice with Bashir in Indonesia to discuss terrorism plans and hinted that bombings in the region were part of a program set out by Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Bafana said he attended one meeting at which a man known as Hambali, Jemaah Islamiah's operations leader and a top Al Qaeda operative, briefed Bashir on the "Sheik Osama program."

The Sheik Osama program, Bafana testified, was aimed at attacking U.S. interests, particularly in Singapore.

Under questioning, Bafana said he had met Bin Laden "for military training." But prosecutors did not ask him whether the Sheik Osama he referred to was the Al Qaeda leader.

Bafana has confessed to Singaporean authorities that he was a Jemaah Islamiah treasurer.

Officials say he was one of the top planners behind a series of bombings in Manila that killed 22 people in December 2000 and a foiled 2001 plot to blow up Western embassies in Singapore with suicide truck bombs.

Bafana told the court that the key leaders of Jemaah Islamiah were appointed by Bashir. He said Bashir named Ali Gufron, better known as Mukhlas, to head Mantiki 1, the Singaporean and Malaysian branch of the network. The post was previously held by Hambali.

Bashir "gave a letter of appointment," Bafana said, "and he gave the letter to me."

Authorities say Mukhlas went on to become the chief organizer of the Oct. 12 nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people. Mukhlas, now on trial in Bali for that bombing, recently praised Bin Laden and asked his wife to name their newborn son after the Al Qaeda leader.

Bafana cried during his testimony, saying that he was sad to see Bashir on trial. "He was like a father to me," Bafana said.

Before Bafana's testimony began, Bashir's lawyers walked out in protest over the judges' decision to allow video testimony from a foreign country.

Bashir read a book during the testimony, telling the judges at one point, "I do not feel I am present at this trial."

Bafana finished his testimony by telling Bashir that he loved him but that it was wrong to fight Christians and that it made Islam look bad.

The court also heard from Hashim Abas, another Jemaah Islamiah member arrested in Singapore for his role in the embassy bomb plot. He is the brother-in-law of Mukhlas.

Abas told the court that Jemaah Islamiah has a chain of command like a military organization and that Hambali, as the operations leader, would have secured Bashir's blessing for any operation.

Abas, who also cried during his testimony, said he was now embarrassed to have been part of the violence. He tearfully told the court that he wanted to hear directly from Bashir whether the cleric denies being the leader of Jemaah Islamiah.

Abas reminded Bashir that the cleric had always taught him to be honest and to tell the truth.

Asked by the court for his response, Bashir replied, "I do not want to answer. This is a tyranny."

*

Sudarsono reported from Jakarta. Paddock reported from Kyoto, Japan.

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