Indonesian Cleric Inspired by Bin Laden

Usama bin Laden


"I met with Usama bin Laden frequently in Afghanistan (search) and heard him speak about waging war against America and its allies," said Mohammad Rais, giving testimony in the trial of alleged terrorist leader Abu Bakar Bashir.

"We saw the Marriott attack as a message from Usama bin Laden," he said.

Bashir has been charged with heading Al Qaeda's (search) alleged affiliate in Southeast Asia, the Jemaah Islamiyah group, and of inciting his followers to take part in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, and the Marriott attack that left 12 dead.

Rais also said that bin Laden offered Bashir refuge in Afghanistan if "he didn't feel comfortable" in Indonesia. The message was given to Hambali, the jailed militant accused of leading Jemaah Islamiyah, who gave it to Rais.

Rais, who in May was sentenced to seven years in jail for helping plan the Marriott attack and transport explosives used in the blast, gave the message to Bashir in 2001 when he visited the cleric's Islamic boarding school in Solo.

Earlier Thursday, another militant testified that Bashir gave a speech to recruits at a southern Philippines terrorist-training camp where Muslim militants learned bombmaking.

But the witness, Yudi Lukito, failed to support prosecutors assertions that Bashir incited militants to attack Western targets in the 2000 speech or took part in any violence. It's the latest setback for the prosecution, whose five other witnesses this week have failed to link Bashir to any crimes.

Bashir denies visiting the Philippines that year nor receiving a message from bin laden. He has voiced support for bin Laden as a defender of Islam, but has repeatedly denied involvement in terrorism.

Lukito, an Islamic militant serving a prison term for illegal weapons possession, told the court he had seen a white-robed Bashir at the Philippines camp in 2000.

"I saw him directly for about five to 10 minutes," Lukito told the court. "He told us that as Muslims we are brothers and that we have to help Muslim brothers everywhere."

Lukito said he learned weapon-handling and bomb-making skills at the camp. Security officials say Jemaah Islamiayah used camps in the southern Philippines to train terrorist recruits.

A Jakarta court last year acquitted Bashir of heading Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been blamed for the Bali and Marriott bombings, and the blast in September outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta that killed 10 Indonesians.

Bashir was re-arrested and put on trial again after pressure from the United States and Australia, which have publicly accused Bashir of being a key Southeast Asian terrorist.

Authorities are expected to present much of the same evidence at this trial, but they say their case has been strengthened by new witnesses and documents seized during a crackdown on militants.