INTERNATIONAL

Terror suspect links Bashir to Osama

JAKARTA June 26. A terror suspect detained in Singapore told an Indonesian court on Thursday that the Muslim cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, heads the group blamed for the Bali bombings and linked the preacher to Osama bin Laden.

Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana, testifying via teleconference from Singapore in the trial of Bashir, also said the cleric allegedly planned to assassinate the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Bashir, the alleged head of the regional terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah, is accused of treason and a series of church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 19 people.

Bashir's lawyer, Mohammad Assegaf, objected to the televised testimony, claiming Bafana, who is in a Singapore prison, was forced to make it. ``This witness statement is clearly given under duress,'' Mr. Assegaf said. The defence team then walked out in protest as dozens of Bashir's supporters cheered.

Bafana, who is Malaysian and used to own a construction company, told the court he joined Jemaah Islamiyah in 1986 and that Bashir was at his swearing-in ceremony.

He said that at the time another man, Abdullah Sugkar, was the group's leader but that Bashir took over when Sugkar died in 2000.

Unspecified date

Bafana said he visited Bashir at an unspecified date in the cleric's Indonesian hometown of Solo, on Java island, and was accompanied by Riduan Isamuddin, or Hambali, who is still at large and believed to be Osama's point man in Southeast Asia.

During the meeting, Hambali asked for Bashir's approval for Osama's terror programme, Bafana said. He did not elaborate.

Asked by prosecutors why Bashir wanted to kill Ms. Megawati, he said only: ``Megawati was supported by Christians.''

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation. Muslims make up 85 per cent of its 210 million people, while 12 per cent are Christian. Thousands of people have been killed in clashes in recent years between followers of the two faiths.

Bafana's testimony is likely to come as a relief to prosecutors who are seeking to establish that Bashir (64) is the head of Jemaah Islamiyah. A string of witnesses have said they know of no link between Bashir and the group.

Bashir declined to respond to Bafana's comments. He previously denied all wrongdoing and says Jemaah Islamiyah does not exist. — AP

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