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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Indonesian cleric 'is militant chief'
Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana giving his testimony, with Abu Bakar Ba'asyir in the foreground
Mr Bafana gave his testimony via a television link
A suspected Islamic militant has told an Indonesian court that Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is the leader of the extremist group blamed for last year's Bali bombings.

Giving evidence via a television link from Singapore, Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana said that Mr Ba'asyir had become the head of Jemaah Islamiah (JI) in 2000, following the death of the previous leader, Abdullah Sugkar.

Mr Bafana said the cleric had also approved a series of church bomb attacks in 2000, and plotted the assassination of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

INDONESIA'S TERROR TRIALS
Amrozi
Trial began on 12 May
Accused of providing the van and bombs used in the attacks.
Imam Samudra
Trial began on 2 June
Accused of planning the attacks.
Mukhlas (Ali Gufron)
Trial began on 16 June
Accused of being the 'mastermind' behind the attacks
Also said to be operations chief of regional militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI).
Abu Bakar Ba'asyir
On trial for series of church bombings in 2000.
Often linked to Bali bombings as he is accused of being JI's spiritual leader
Prosecutors say Mr Ba'asyir, who denies that JI even exists, authorised the church bombings.

He also stands accused of planning to overthrow the Jakarta Government to establish an Islamic state.

While he has not been named as a suspect in the Bali bombings, many Indonesian officials suspect him of involvement, and several key Bali suspects have been called to testify at his trial.

Mr Bafana, a Malaysian who is in detention in Singapore, is the first foreigner to give evidence.

His testimony is likely to come as a welcome relief to prosecutors, correspondents say.

So far, most of the witnesses called to testify against the cleric have failed to link Abu Bakar Ba'asyir with JI, and to implicate him in any bomb attacks.

Mr Bafana told the court he had joined JI in 1986, and that Mr Ba'asyir was at his swearing-in ceremony.

He said he had visited the cleric in his hometown of Solo in central Java, and was accompanied by Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, who is thought to be a senior JI figure and is still at large.

'Father figure'

Mr Bafana said that Mr Ba'asyir had been like a father to him, and that he was upset to see the elderly preacher on trial.

He admitted that Mr Ba'asyir had approved the church attacks, but said the cleric "did not ask us to do it, he only suggested targets were in line with the objectives," according to Reuters news agency.

Mr Bafana was arrested in 2001 and is being held indefinitely in Singapore under the country's Internal Security Act.

Two other suspected Islamic militants held in Singapore are expected to testify in Mr Ba'asyir's trial later today.

The cleric's lawyer, Mohammad Assegaf, has objected to the televised testimony of foreign witnesses such as Mr Bafana.

"This witness statement is clearly given under duress," Mr Assegaf said of Mr Bafana's comments.

The defence team eventually walked out of the court in protest, accompanied by cheers from Mr Ba'asyir's supporters.




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