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Bashir Involved in Terror Attacks, says Witness - 2003-06-26

An Indonesian court has heard testimony that Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was involved in plotting terror attacks.

Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana told the court in Jakarta that Abu Bakar Bashir called a meeting to plan an assassination attempt on Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

During his testimony, Mr. Faiz also said Mr. Bashir gave his approval to a series of church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 19 people and injured many more.

Mr. Faiz appeared in the Jakarta court via teleconference from Singapore, where he has been detained for two years under an internal security law.

Lawyers for Mr. Bashir walked out of the courtroom in protest. They argued Mr. Faiz testified under duress, and that only testimony given on Indonesian soil should be permitted.

Mr. Faiz wept as he gave his testimony, saying he viewed the elderly cleric as a father. He wrapped up his remarks by saying violent acts against Christians casts Islam in a bad light.

The treason charges against Mr. Bashir are linked to his alleged leadership of Jemaah Islamiyah, an extremist Muslim group believed to have ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Mr. Faiz testified that Mr. Bashir referred to the church bombings as "a program of Sheik Osama." Prosecutors say the aborted attempt to assassinate President Megawati was part of a larger campaign to overthrow the Indonesian government and establish an Islamic state.

Indonesian authorities think the group is also responsible for last October's Bali bombing, which killed 202 people. Bashir has not been charged in connection with that attack.

But Mr. Faiz testified that a key suspect in the Bali bombing attended the meeting Mr. Bashir called to plan the attack on the president.

Mr. Bashir denies all wrongdoing and has denied the existence of Jemaah Islamiyah. If convicted of treason, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Mr. Bashir's presence at the treason trial meant he could not attend a second, and simultaneous, legal battle. He is suing Time magazine for $120 million over an article last September linking him to terrorist operatives. Editors of the U.S. magazine are standing by the article.