JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Islamic militant captured in the same Pakistan town where U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden went on trial in Indonesia on Monday accused of making bombs that exploded at Bali nightclubs packed with Australian tourists in 2002, killing 202 people.
Umar Patek, 45, is also accused of mixing chemicals for 13 bombs that detonated in five churches in Jakarta on Christmas Eve, 2000 and killed around 15 people. Security officials say he belonged to the banned Jemaah Islamiah group linked to al Qaeda.
The Bali bombs were a watershed for Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, forcing the secular state to confront the presence of violent militants on its soil.
It has since been largely successful in containing militant attacks across the large archipelago. But the government of President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono has been criticised for doing little to curb more general religious intolerance that has become increasingly common in the very diverse country.
Pakistani authorities caught Patek in January 2011 in the garrison town of Abbottabad where U.S. forces shot dead bin Laden. It is unclear whether the two met.
Patek was flanked by heavily armed officers as he was escorted into a district court in west Jakarta on Monday wearing a white Muslim cap, tunic and traditional ankle-length trousers.
He sat in silence as prosecutors took turns to read the 29-page indictment in the small courtroom. A handful of his supporters shouted “Allahu akbar” or God is greatest at the hearing. He will respond to the charges on Feb 20.
“The defendant met Imam Samudra (a key figure in the Bali bombings who was convicted and executed in 2008) and invited him to kill foreigners and tourists in Bali using bombs,” state prosecutor Fri Hartono told a district court in Jakarta.
“Samudra asked the defendant to mix explosives for the bombs and he agreed.”
After the bombings, security forces detained nearly 600 militants, most of whom have been convicted, said security expert Noor Huda Ismail, founder of the Institute for International Peace-Building in Jakarta.
Three main perpetrators of the bombings were convicted and executed by firing squad in 2008.
As a result of the campaign, the threat from militants has diminished, according to analysts. Most Indonesian Muslims are Sunni and there is little popular support for violent militants.
But authorities have adopted a much softer line against violent religious intolerance in a country with significant minorities of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Confucians.
“The special anti-terror detachment has done a great job to weaken Jemaah Islamiah and its offshoot groups .... but the way the government is handling the problem of rising religious tolerance is not at all firm,” Ismail said.
Violence against religious minorities became more deadly and frequent during 2011 as Islamist militants mobilised mobs to attack them, Human Rights Watch said in a January report
Some Christians have been targeted as well as members of the Ahmadi group whose status as Muslims is contested, the rights group said.
In one example, a mob of 1,500 people killed three Ahmadis a year ago in Banten province. A few attackers were prosecuted and served only six to nine months in jail, Human Rights Watch said.
The government says it protects religious freedom. Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali of the Unity Development Party (PPP) has said the Ahmadi sect should be banned. The PPP is an Islamic party and part of the ruling coalition.
Patek, also wanted in the United States, the Philippines and Australia, went to a training camp in Pakistan for Afghan militants in 1991, prosecutors said.
He built the Bali bombs from 700 kg of potassium chlorate, sulphur and aluminium powder and stuffed them in four plastic filing cabinets. He also helped another man make electronic devices to link the four filing cabinets, prosecutors said.
He later fled, living in the Philippines with groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf group, prosecutors said.
During that period, he visited Indonesia to help a group associated with Jemaah Islamiah to set up a paramilitary training camp in Aceh province.
Editing by Matthew Bigg and Jonathan Thatcher