The terrorism trial of Indonesian militant Umar Patek began today in Jakarta for his alleged role in bombings that killed 202 people in Bali, highlighting Southeast Asia’s battle to dismantle militant groups.
Mass murder charges could lead to the death penalty if Patek is found guilty, his lawyer Asludin Adjani said in a telephone interview from Jakarta. The U.S. had offered a reward of $1 million for Patek, who was arrested last year in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden.
The case adds to Indonesia’s progress in battling terrorism under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has led the secular state with the world’s biggest population of Muslims since 2004. A conviction of the suspected bombmaker would follow two ratings companies raising Southeast Asia’s biggest economy to investment grade.
“The threat remains significant but governments are better prepared to fight terrorism,” Rohan Gunaratna, head of the Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said by phone. “Information Patek has provided has been very significant and useful for understanding terrorist networks in Pakistan and Southeast Asia.”
The trial begins one year after that of Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who also faced terrorism charges for his role in the October 2002 attacks on a Bali nightclub. Like Bashir, Patek is thought to be a member of the al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiyah, according to a profile on the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center website.
Ready for Trial
Patek will file a challenge to the indictment next week, Adjani told reporters in Jakarta today after the proceedings began. Earlier he said charges of premeditated mass murder will “require evidence.”
Patek is charged with premeditated murder for his role in making the bombs used in the Bali attacks, as well as conspiracy to commit terrorism and aid terrorists, according to a copy of the indictment. He used 11 aliases in addition to his birth name, Hisyam Bin Alizein, the indictment said.
Patek first used his bombmaking skills in 2000, when Bali bombing mastermind Imam Samudra asked him to make explosives to attack churches on Christmas Eve, according to the indictment. Samudra, who was executed in 2008 for his role in the bombings, later asked Patek to help kill foreigners in Bali by making the bombs, it said.
Patek and a friend he met in Pakistan in the early 1990s took three weeks to blend the explosive mixture of potassium chlorate, sulfur and aluminum powder used in the Bali attack, the indictment said.
After the Bali attacks, Patek spent seven years in the southern Philippines working with militant group Abu Sayyaf, the indictment said. The group helped fund his move to Pakistan, where he stopped before a planned move to Afghanistan to fight U.S. troops, it said.
Bashir, whose trial began Feb. 10 last year, was convicted of funding terrorism and sentenced to 15 years in prison in June. An Indonesian court later reduced the term to nine years, the Associated Press reported.
Indonesia must do more to prevent extremist preachers from radicalizing the population, Gunaratna said, adding that Bashir remains a bigger threat than Patek even from behind bars.
“Bashir should be put in isolation because he’s conducting business from inside prison,” Gunaratna said. “Umar Patek has cooperated. Bashir has not.”
Indonesia won its second credit rating upgrade in five weeks last month, as Moody’s Investors Service returned the country to investment level for the first time since the Asian financial crisis.
The foreign and local-currency rating was increased to Baa3 from Ba1. Fitch Ratings brought Indonesia back to investment grade last December after 14 years of junk ratings. It raised the nation’s long-term foreign and local currency rating to BBB-with a stable outlook.
Investment in the three months ended Dec. 31 rose 19 percent from a year earlier to 70.2 trillion rupiah ($7.8 billion), Gita Wirjawan, chairman of the Investment Coordinating Board, said last month. For 2011 as a whole, investment gained 21 percent from a year earlier to 251.3 trillion rupiah.
The Jakarta Composite Index has risen 2.9 percent this year compared with the MSCI Asia-Pacific Index’s 10.3 percent rise. Indonesia’s benchmark climbed 0.5 percent today, the first gain in three days.
Indonesia had stepped up raids against terror suspects since bombings on July 17, 2009, at Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels killed nine people, including the two attackers. They were the first terrorist attacks in the country by Islamic militants in almost four years.
In September 2009, police killed militant leader Noordin Mohammad Top, who was suspected of involvement in every major anti-Western attack in Indonesia since 2002. In March of the same year they killed terrorist leader and suspected Bali bomber Dulmatin and two others.