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Trial Begins for Suspect in Bali Bombing

Widows and survivor attend the opening statements for the first Islamic militant to be tried in the nightclub attack that killed 202.

May 13, 2003|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

DENPASAR, Indonesia — The cheerful man accused of supplying the car and chemicals for last year's Bali bombing went on trial Monday, the first of at least 33 Islamic militants to go to court in the devastating attack.

Widows, a scarred survivor, ambassadors and an Indonesian Cabinet minister were among the hundreds of people who attended the opening day of the proceedings, which will test the ability of the nation's notoriously corrupt legal system to bring those responsible to justice.

Prosecutors allege that Amrozi bin H. Nurhasyim helped plan and carry out the bombing of two Bali nightclubs to retaliate against the United States for what he saw as the worldwide oppression of Muslims. The October attack killed 202 people, most of them Australian tourists and Indonesian workers.

"He is charged with purposely planning an act of terrorism by using violence or threat of violence to create terror or fear on a large scale or cause massive casualties," prosecutor Urip Tri Gunawan said in his opening remarks.

In an unusual approach, defense lawyers praised police for their quick action in investigating the bombing. They acknowledged that Amrozi had confessed his part in the crime but argued that this was not sufficient grounds for conviction.

Afterward, one of Amrozi's attorneys described his client as a man with a "simple mind." Amrozi, an auto mechanic and part-time teacher at an Islamic boarding school, faces the death penalty if convicted.

Amrozi was the first suspect tracked down by police after they recovered the chassis number of the Mitsubishi minivan used in the bombing and found that he was the owner. He, in turn, led police to other suspects, including two of his brothers.

Indonesian authorities, who had denied that organized terrorist groups existed in their country, discovered that some suspects were connected to Jemaah Islamiah, a regional terror network that seeks to form an Islamic state across much of Southeast Asia. Intelligence officials in several countries say the organization is affiliated with Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Prosecutors charge that Amrozi attended meetings to plan the bombing, but his lawyers say the indictment is flawed and asked the five-judge panel to throw it out.

Peter Hughes, an Australian tourist who was in the Sari Club when the bomb went off and suffered burns on more than 50% of his body, traveled back to Bali to see Amrozi face the charges. Hughes said he felt better when he saw fear in Amrozi's eyes.

"I felt he knew where he was going to be, and he realized the enormity of it all," Hughes told reporters. "I saw somebody who thinks his end is coming close."

The handsome Amrozi gained notoriety in November when he met with police in view of the press and appeared to be laughing and joking. Some interpreted his conduct as showing a lack of remorse.

During Monday's session, he sat by himself in a large open area in front of the judges, the prosecution and the nine members of his defense team. After taking his seat, he gave a thumbs-up signal to cameras in the chamber. As the lawyers spoke, he occasionally stroked his skimpy new beard and stared at the ceiling.

Defense lawyer Mahendradatta, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, suggested afterward that his client had difficulty tracking the proceedings. "Sometimes I saw he tried to focus with his simple mind," the lawyer said.

On his way out of court, Amrozi flashed a big smile to journalists.

Among those in the audience were five Balinese women who lost their husbands in the bombing.

Ni Luh Erniati, 32, a mother of two whose husband worked at the Sari Club and died at the scene, said the widows hope Amrozi is sentenced to death.

"We wanted to see him in the flesh because we are so angry with what he has done," she said. "But seeing him was more than we could bear. We all cried and felt sick, and some of us fainted today. We don't want to see him again."

In Amrozi's indictment, prosecutors allege that the first bomb was set off at Paddy's Club by a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives. Moments later, the car bomb was detonated outside the Sari Club by a man in the vehicle, prosecutors say, although it remains to be proven whether he intended to kill himself. The car bomb caused nearly all the deaths. Bali's tourist-dependent economy has yet to recover from the bombing. In March, the number of visitors was increasing but the war in Iraq and the SARS outbreak in Asia have scared tourists away again.

Vivian Lorukoba, 23, who works in a souvenir store 50 feet from where the car bomb exploded, said the former two-story shop had been rebuilt with only one floor. The street was once a popular tourist destination, she said, but now few people come.

She said a sentence of life in prison would be too good for Amrozi, who is from East Java. "He made very much trouble for us and for Bali tourists," she said. "I don't understand why he had to chose Bali. What had Bali ever done to him?"

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