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Witness Says Bashir Led Jemaah Islamiyah


In Indonesia, the crumbling prosecution case against alleged terror leader Abu Bakar Bashir has gotten a boost. A confessed senior member of the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) gave a detailed account of how involved he said the cleric was in the running the organization, and described a visit he says he made to JI's training school in the southern Philippines.

Nasir Abbas told the Indonesian court that he was personally installed as the leader of one of Jemaah Islamiyah's four regional commands by Abu Bakar Bashir, who was the head of J.I. at the time.

Mr. Abbas, who testified for the prosecution, also described a visit Bashir made four years ago to a JI training camp in the southern Philippines to speak at the graduation of a group of 17 militants.

The evidence injected new life into a prosecution case that was threatening to crumble as several witnesses withdrew their confessions and some convicted JI members would not confirm that Bashir had anything to do with the organization.

Mr. Abbas told the court how Bashir had confirmed his position as the leader of the JI's operations in the southern Philippines, and parts of eastern Indonesia and Malaysia.

He was also in charge of the group's training operation and said he was present as Bashir told the group of graduates that this world is the world of jihad, or religious struggle.

The Tuesday proceedings threatened to descend into chaos, as about 300 of Bashir's supporters hooted, laughed and shouted "God is great," and had to be told repeatedly by the judge to calm down.

The testimony heard Tuesday is unlikely, on its own, to lead to Bashir's conviction. The 65-year-old cleric is on trial for his life for inspiring the bombers who carried out both the Bali tourist nightclub bombing two years ago and last year's attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. More than two hundred people died in the attacks.

Bashir previously was convicted of immigration violations but not of any terrorism charges.

Although the United Nations and the U.S. State Department classify JI as a terrorist organization, being a member is not a crime in Indonesia. None of the witnesses so far, including Mr. Abbas, have said they heard or saw Bashir do anything to directly encourage the bombings.