Thu, 04 Dec 2003

I was temporary JI leader: Defendant Abu Rusydan

P.C. Naommy, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The defendant in a trial related to the Bali bombings told the court on Wednesday that he was asked by those attending a meeting in April 2002 to replace Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir as the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) operations leader.

Ba'asyir, 64, had his four-year sentence reduced to a three- year jail term by the Jakarta High Court on Monday for immigration offenses and document forgery. The High Court judges overturned the lower court's verdict, which had convicted him of treason for his alleged leadership of JI. The JI is on the United Nations' list of regional terrorist networks.

Defendant Abu Rusydan, who is charged with concealing information on planned terrorist acts, earlier acknowledged that he was a JI member. But he told the South Jakarta District Court that he turned down the request to become JI's leader. The request was made at a meeting held at Villa Setia in the Puncak hill resort, West Java, in April 2002.

"Since I don't know who the real leader of the JI was, I refused to accede to the request to replace Ba'asyir. How is it possible that I wouldn't know that Ba'asyir was the JI leader when I was very close to him?" said Rusydan.

But he added he accepted the position of interim operations leader in October 2002.

The meeting, which was held after the arrest of Ba'asyir, was also attended by Ali Gufron alias Mukhlas. The latter is now serving a life sentence for his role in the bombings in the crowded tourist resort of Kuta on Oct. 12 2002, which killed at least 202 people.

During Wednesday's hearing, Rusydan acknowledged that Ali Gufron was also present at two other meetings of JI members -- one held on Oct. 17, 2002, five days after the bombings, at the Al Risyad hotel in Tawang Mangu, Karanganyar in Central Java -- and the other held in April 2003 at Villa Para in Puncak.

Prosecutors have accused Rusydan of knowing that Ali Gufron was one of the Bali bombers and of failing to inform the police of Ali's whereabouts.

However, Rusydan denied that he had heard Ali Gufron make any mention of the Bali bombings during those meetings.

Rusydan was responding to testimony given by two witnesses during Wednesday's hearing.

Witness Mustofa, who also admitted to being a JI member, said he was present at the October meeting and that he overheard Ali Gufron say during a break that "We are the Bali bombers".

Mustofa's testimony could incriminate Rusydan, who has been charged under Article 13c of Regulation in Lieu of Law No.1/2002 with withholding evidence on terrorist activities. Rusydan could face a minimum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted.

Another witness, Sutikno, claimed that he worked for the JI secretariat. He testified that he had never heard Ali Gufron claim to be a Bali bomber.

In his earlier defense, Rusydan had denied membership of JI, but eventually admitted he was a member on Wednesday, explaining that he was appointed interim operations leader at the second meeting. He said he had agreed under two conditions.

The first was that he refused to be involved in any violent activities planned by JI, which the witnesses in Rusydan's trial say is not an organization with statutes, but rather a "congregation" (jamaah). The second condition was that he would only serve as temporary leader until JI members agreed unanimously on a leader.

Rusydan maintained that JI could not be linked to terrorism, as its activities were based on Islamic law.

The Jakarta office of the International Crisis Group (ICG) released a study this year on JI, which has also been blamed for the bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta on Aug. 5, which claimed 12 lives. The research group said that JI members are well-trained in bomb-making and the use of firearms.

Presiding Judge Mahmoud Rahimi adjourned the hearing until Dec. 8 to hear two other witnesses.