JAKARTA, Indonesia – A witness Tuesday for the first time linked an aging Indonesian cleric to a regional terror group affiliated with al Qaeda and blamed for nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people two years ago.
The witness, Nasir Abbas, said he was a former operative with the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group and that cleric Abu Bakar Bashir claimed to have met with al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Bashir is being tried on charges of leading Jemaah Islamiyah and inspiring his followers to carry out the Oct. 12, 2002, bombings – whose victims included seven Americans – and last year’s attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people.
If convicted, Bashir could be sentenced to death.
Abbas alleged that Bashir headed Jemaah Islamiyah and swore him in as a group member at a 2000 ceremony in the cleric’s hometown of Solo on Indonesia’s Java island.
Abbas also testified that Bashir once told group members that shedding the blood of non-Muslims is allowed under Islamic law.
Hundreds of Bashir supporters jeered and shouted “Liar!” as Abbas addressed the court in southern Jakarta.
“You are saying this because the police forced you to!” one man yelled at Abbas.
Bashir denied all of Abbas’ testimony, which was the first to directly link the cleric to Jemaah Islamiyah.
The United States and Australia accuse Bashir of being a key Southeast Asian terrorist and urged Jakarta to bring him to trial again after he was acquitted of related terrorism offenses last year.
Abbas said Bashir once was asked by a recruit whether stealing the money of non-Muslims was “halal,” or permissible, under Islamic law.
“Shedding their blood is halal, so of course taking their money is,” Abbas quoted Bashir as saying.
Abbas said Bashir stayed for three nights at a Jemaah Islamiyah training camp in April 2000 in the southern Philippines. He addressed 17 Indonesian recruits there on the need for jihad, or holy war, he said.
Abbas was arrested in Indonesia last year and jailed for 10 months for immigration offenses. In an interview with the Associated Press in September, he declined to disclose whether he had concluded a deal with police to secure his release.
Bashir, 66, told the court he met Abbas in Malaysia in the 1980s but had not seen him since then.
Bashir denied heading Jemaah Islamiyah, meeting bin Laden, going to the Philippines or swearing in Abbas.
He also denied ever saying that spilling the blood of non-Muslims was permitted under Islamic law.