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Alleged Terrorist Leader Appears Before Jakarta Court - 2003-10-29

Indonesia has begun prosecuting the newest alleged leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group. Abu Rusdan is accused of hiding one of the Bali bombers after last year's deadly attack. He appeared briefly before the Jakarta court Wednesday. But the start of the trial was delayed until next week on a legal technicality.

Abu Rusdan is being charged with hiding Ali Ghufron, alias Mukhlas, one of the masterminds of the Bali bombing in October 2002. Mukhlas has been sentenced to death for his role in the killings of the 202 Bali victims.

The indictment states Abu Rusdan is the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group blamed in the Bali attack, but it is not listed among the charges. Authorities say Mr. Rusdan replaced Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir - who is in prison on a treason conviction.

Wirawan Adnan, Abu Rusdan's lawyer, denies his client has any connection to the militant group. "He is charged with the head of JI, but there is nothing in the indictment that accuses him of being part of JI," he says. "I don't think the prosecutors could establish whether there is such a thing as JI, I think it was just left as a story."

The 43-year-old Abu Rusdan - who is also known by his aliases Thoriqudin and Hamzah - used to run a computer shop in central Java, but has a long record of involvement in extremist Islamic groups and may have trained in Afghanistan. If convicted, Abu Rusdan could serve up to 20 years in prison.

Indonesia has established an impressive record of catching and convicting active members of JI - nearing two dozen in the past year. Despite that fact, analysts warn that Jemaah Islamiyah continues to pose a very real threat to domestic and western targets in Asia.

JI aims to establish a pan-Islamic state across much of Southeast Asia.