JAKARTA, Indonesia – His voice trembling, the militant accused of building bombs for the 2002 Bali nightclub attacks apologized Monday for the first time to the victims and their families.
Umar Patek, a leading member of the al-Qaida-linked network Jemaah Islamiyah, was emotional as he testified at his trial in the capital, Jakarta, that he'd been against the bombings that killed 202 people from the start.
He said he had been afraid, however, to challenge more senior members of the group.
"I still feel guilty," Patek said, in a trembling voice. "I knew about the plan. I helped mix some of the chemicals use in the explosives. ... Why didn't I inform the police?"
He denies playing a major role in assembling the massive car bomb that, on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2002, went off outside two nightclubs packed with foreign tourists on the busiest night of the week. A suicide bomber inside one of the clubs had blown himself up, killing many people and forcing others to run outside where the vehicle loaded with the bomb was parked. Another suicide bomber then blew that up.
Eighty-eight of the victims were Australian. Seven were Americans.
After the bombings, Indonesia was thrust onto the front lines in the battle against terrorism.
There have been several attacks targeting Western hotels, restaurants and an embassy since then. But all have been far less deadly, thanks in part, security experts say, to a relentless crackdown on Jemaah Islamiyah that has largely decimated their ranks.
Patek, who was arrested in Pakistan just over a year ago, told the court the Bali bombings were in theory meant to avenge Western policies in the Palestinian territories.
"From my point of view, it was total failure," the suspect told the court, adding he saw "no connection" between the original mission, fighting against the oppression of fellow Muslims, and the target, partying tourists.
"Yes, most of the victims were white, but there were no Israelis," he said. "Some were even Indonesian. That's a failure."
Patek faces a maximum penalty of death by firing squad if found guilty of terror-related and criminal charges.
He insists he didn't play a major role in assembling the massive car bomb — saying that job fell to Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-making masterminds, Azahari bin Husin and Dulmatin, both of whom have since been killed in police raids.
"I only played a small role," he said, acknowledging that he helped mix less than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of nearly a ton of the chemicals used in the explosives. "But I still feel guilty, because I was involved in an event that caused massive casualties."
"From the bottom of my heart, I apologize to the victims and their families," he said.