An Indonesian court opened the trial Monday of key Indonesian militant Umar Patek, allegedly a former member of al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, accused of participating in the 2002 Bali bombing that left 202 people dead.
According to prosecutors, Patek helped build the bombs that ripped through two packed nightclubs in Bali. He is also accused of assembling explosives for a series of deadly church bombings on Christmas Eve in 2000.
The six charges against Patek include premeditated murder for the Bali blasts, possessing firearms for the purpose of terrorism and concealing information about other terrorist acts. Three of the charges carry a maximum penalty of death.
The high number of charges reflects an attempt by prosecutors to build a stronger case than in previous terror trials, said Sidney Jones, a senior analyst from the International Crisis Group.
"They’ve taken the Bali bombs under the criminal code, importation of weapons under this emergency law from 1951, and the terrorism law for acts committed after he returned to Indonesia in 2009,' Jones said. "So it’s an unusually full set of charges that I think should get a pretty heavy sentence if he’s convicted on all of them."
Mr. Patek is one of the last remaining suspects in the Bali blast. Three other key figures in that attack were executed by firing square in November 2008.
His arrest a year ago in Abbottabad, Pakistan - the same town where U.S. Navy Seals would later kill Osama bin Laden - is was thought to have provided important information about the links between al-Qaida and its affiliated terror networks in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia’s defense minister said last year that Patek was in Abbottabad to try to meet with bin Laden, but U.S. and Pakistani authorities have suggested his presence there was a coincidence.
Patek appears to have been mostly responsible for carrying out logistics rather than strategy, and Jones said his trial is unlikely to cause a major disruption or change in Indonesia’s extremist ranks.
“I think in some ways the group that he represents is past its prime and we’ve seen new waves of groups to which he’s not connected at all emerge and become more a threat in some ways in Indonesia.”
Recent reports from the International Crisis Group say the terrorist threat in Indonesia has shifted from big campaigns targeting foreigners, to small, disparate groups aiming at Indonesian authorities.
The trial could be important, however, in helping to bring closure to the Bali bombings and it could reveal some of the linkages between extremist groups in South and Southeast Asia.
Shortly after the Bali attack, Patek fled to Mindanao, in the Philippines, where he joined the radical Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf. He returned to Indonesia with his Philippine wife in June 2009, moving around Jakarta and elsewhere before leaving for Pakistan under a fake identity.
During his time in Indonesia he was allegedly involved in providing training and weapons for a militant training camp in Aceh set up by another former member of Jemaah Islamiyah, Dulmatin.
Unlike other major terrorist suspects, Patek drew few supporters to his trial, where he arrived under heavy security. His defense attorneys say they will file an objection to the case in one week.