A key witness in the trial of Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir told a court on Tuesday that the ageing firebrand preacher was head of Jemaah Islamiah, a militant group seen as the Southeast Asian arm of al Qaeda.
Nasir Abbas, a Malaysian who claims to have been a Jemaah Islamiah instructor at a camp in the southern Philippines, said Bashir visited the camp in April 2000 and spoke at a graduation ceremony for recruits.
“We wanted this achievement, the first graduates to be seen by Jemaah Islamiah’s Emir (spiritual leader) ... Bashir stayed for two or three days,” said Abbas.
“He reminded us that it was all for Jihad (holy struggle) and what we do on earth will be rewarded.”
Nasir said that in response to a question from one recruit about whether it was permitted to rob bank ATMs if they belonged to “infidels,” Bashir replied:
“Even the blood is halal (permitted), and so are their belongings.”
Prosecutors have accused Bashir, 66, of using his “religious charisma” to incite bomb attacks on Bali island in 2002 that killed 202 people and also a suicide blast outside the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta last year that killed 12.
Bashir is also facing charges he leads Jemaah Islamiah, a shadowy group blamed for the Bali and Marriott attacks among others.
Bashir, who was a silent presence in the court on Tuesday, has consistently denied any wrongdoing and has said he does not know the witnesses.
Dozens of supporters attending the session jeered at Abbas, yelling that he was lying. In addition to Abbas, two other key witnesses had been due to testify on Tuesday but did not turn up.
Ali Imron and Mubarok, two of the convicted Bali bombers now in jail, snubbed a summons to appear. They said in letters read before the court that they had testified in previous trials and had nothing more to say.
A previous effort after the Bali bombings to convict Bashir of leading Jemaah Islamiah failed. The cleric did, however, serve 18 months for immigration violations and was re-arrested using anti-terror statutes in April.
His trial began in October and is expected to drag on into next year.