JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir (search) headed the regional Jemaah Islamiyah terror group, and told its members that military training was a major part of jihad, a key witness testified in court Tuesday.
Nasir Abbas, a Malaysian who told the court he was a former Jemaah Islamiyah (search) operative, also told Bashir's ongoing trial on terrorism charges that the accused claimed to have met with Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Abbas' testimony was the first to support allegations that Bashir led the Al Qaeda-linked (search) Jemaah Islamiyah group, which is blamed for a string of bloody terror attacks in Indonesia and failed plots elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
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.
The United States and Australia have both accused 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 alleged that Bashir "headed Jemaah Islamiyah" and swore him in as a member of the group at a ceremony in the cleric's hometown of Solo on Indonesia's Java island in 2000.
Abbas said Bashir came to a Jemaah Islamiyah training camp in April 2000 in the southern Philippines to address 17 Indonesian recruits.
"He gave a speech in front of the students, and stayed there for two or three days," said Abbas, who was an instructor at the camp at the time.
He said Bashir told the recruits that the military training was "what we have to do, it is part of the jihad (holy war). This is good."
Abbas was arrested in Indonesia last year and was 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 is charged — as head of Jemaah Islamiyah — with inspiring his followers to launch the Oct. 12, 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and last year's attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, that killed 12.
If convicted, Bashir could be sentenced to death.
Bashir, 66, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and said he is being targeted by Washington because of his campaign to turn Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, into an Islamic state.
Prosecutors have presented at least a dozen witnesses so far at his trial. None have directly implicated Bashir in any criminal activity. Most have said he was just an Islamic teacher.