Fri, 27 Jun 2003

Singaporean witnesses implicate Ba'asyir in bombing

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A confessed terrorist broke down in tears as he testified that Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, was the leader of regional terror group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) and was involved in plans to assassinate then vice president Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Testifying in the Central Jakarta District Court on Thursday via a live video linkup from Singapore where he is in detention, Malaysian Faiz Abu Bakar Bafana became the first witness to implicate Ba'asyir, saying the cleric "had blessed" a series of church bombings in the country in 2000 and a mall bombing.

He also said that Ba'asyir was also involved in sending armed- militia to the Maluku province, where thousands have died in bloody fighting between Muslims and Christians.

Bafana said Ba'asyir ordered an assassination attempt against Megawati, now President, when he visited the cleric in Surakarta, Central Java, sometime in 2000, because she was too close to Christians.

"I later told Mukhlas, who was in Malaysia, about his order. But he (Mukhlas) said that we did not have the capability to do that. I did not know what happened next," said Bafana, referring to a suspect in the Bali bombing who is currently on trial.

Bafana, 41, who admitted that he was the treasurer of JI chapter in Singapore, said JI operations spanned Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines.

When he asked why he was crying he said it was because Ba'asyir was like a father to him.

JI, believed to be connected to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network, has been included on the United Nations' list of banned terror groups.

Bafana was one of three detained alleged terrorists testifying from Singapore.

Another witness, Singaporean Ja'far Mistuki, testified that Ba'asyir was JI's leader and as such would have known about all the group's activities.

The last witness, Singaporean Hashim bin Abbas, said all decisions made within JI needed the approval of its head, "just like in the military".

Hashim, who identified Ba'asyir as Ustadz Abu Samad, said Ba'asyir was JI's leader.

He said JI moved its headquarters from Malaysia to Indonesia "to make things easier" but did not specify the year.

The trio are among 13 JI suspects detained without trial in Singapore under the Internal Security Act since December 2001 for involvement in an alleged bomb plot.

Earlier in the day, Ba'asyir's team of lawyers walked out of the courtroom in protest after judges overruled their objections to the teleconference.

They said the video link was not recognized by Indonesia's legal system and expressed doubt as to whether the witnesses could testify "without fear and intimidation".

Bafana, during his testimony, denounced terrorism as "shameful" and called on fellow JI members to "return to the true path".

The JI bombings, Bafana said, aimed "to avenge attacks by Christians on Muslims" but he added: "We have to love our Muslim brothers, but we also have to love our non-Muslim brothers."

He said that he was sorry for what he did and called on "all JI ustad (teachers) to surrender to authorities in their home countries."

Ba'asyir said earlier that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the hearing. He remained calm and silent and continued to read from a book during the session.

Both Hashim and Ja'far also urged Ba'asyir to admit the existence of JI and that he led the group.

"Don't betray us as loyal JI members," Ja'far said.

In a related development, Ba'asyir sued Time magazine, editor Karl Taro Greenfeld, writer Romesh Ratnesar and reporter Jason Tejasukmana over its article published in Time's Sept. 15, 2002 edition, detailing alleged confessions by a suspected al-Qaeda operative, Omar al Faruq, against Ba'asyir.

The US$120 million lawsuit was presented by his team of lawyers at the South Jakarta District Court on Thursday.

Lawyer Achmad Michdan, who represented Ba'asyir, said that the report had damaged his client's reputation and was a lie.