Fri, 04 Jul 2003

Witnesses say Ba'asyir as leader of Jamaah Islamiyah

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A terror suspect dealt another blow to cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir on Thursday when he testified that the elderly man was the leader of regional terrorist network Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).

"What I know is Ustadz Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is currently the head of Jamaah Islamiyah," Ahmad Sajuli told the Central Jakarta District Court on Thursday.

Also testifying during the trial was Ferial Muchlis bin Abdul Halim. Ferial said Hambali had told him that Ba'asyir had replaced Sungkar as JI chief.

Hambali, an alleged head of JI, is currently at large.

Ferial, who is also detained in Malaysia, is the son-in-law of the late Abdullah Sungkar, who founded JI, and a JI commander for Malaysia's Selangor state.

Ahmad, an Indonesian living in Malaysia, knew Ba'asyir as Abdus Samad. He said he was introduced to Ba'asyir in Malaysia in 1989.

Previously, Ahmad worked for JI's askari or armed-forces wing.

"My job was to help members of JI who were waging jihad in the southern Philippines or Afghanistan," Ahmad said, mentioning Camp Abubakar in the Philippines.

During the trial, he told the court that JI originated from an Islamic organization called Darul Islam, which fought to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state in the 1950s.

Darul Islam disbanded in the 1990s as its leaders -- Abdul Halim, known as Abdullah Sungkar, and Ajengan Masduki -- became involved in a dispute over the group's vision.

Sungkar, along with a number of other hardliners, including Ba'asyir, set up JI in 1993, he said. Ba'asyir replaced Sungkar after his death in 1999.

Witness Agung Biyadi, another Indonesian living in Malaysia, who is also a terrorist suspect, told the court that JI originated from Indonesia's Darul Islam group.

As the Indonesian government opposed their movement, some members of Darul Islam fled to Malaysia, who were then involved in a dispute with the country.

"JI's long-term goal is to set up an Islamic state in Indonesia," said Agung, who said that he was not a member of JI, but he admitted that he was a sympathizer.

Ahmad said JI gave "assistance to oppressed people and military assistance to fight people who oppress Muslims."

JI, which was formerly based in Malaysia, had relocated to Indonesia after Ba'asyir assumed the leadership, Ahmad said.

He also revealed links between JI and some groups in the southern Philippines and Thailand. He said he sent JI members for weapons training in the Philippines and Afghanistan.

"Our group is a secret one," Ahmad said, adding that the group's members usually had aliases to hide their identities.

Last week three witnesses detained in Singapore testified that Ba'asyir leads JI and was involved in a series of bombings in the country as well as a plot to assassinate then vice president Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Ba'asyir, 64, has consistently denied the allegations and said the court's decision to allow teleconferences "has dismissed my hope for an objective trial".

Prosecutors are attempting to link Ba'asyir to JI, plans to overthrow the Indonesian government using terrorism to establish an Islamic state and authorizing the Christmas Eve bombings. He has not been linked to the Bali blasts.