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Laden contacted Indonesia's Bashir, court told
Updated: 2004-12-03 10:02

Fugitive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden once invited Indonesian preacher Abu Bakar Bashir to live in Afghanistan, a young militant jailed over the bombing of a Jakarta hotel told the cleric's terrorism trial on Thursday.

Witness Mohamad Rais said he gave a message to Bashir from bin Laden in 2001 after returning to Indonesia from two years of military training in Afghan militant camps.

Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir (R) is escorted by police as he enters a makeshift courtroom in the Ministry of Agriculture in south Jakarta, December 2, 2004. [Reuters]

"If Bashir feels no longer comfortable here (in Indonesia), Osama asked Bashir to go there," Rais told the court when asked by a judge what was the content of the message.

Asked what Bashir said, Rais replied: "God Willing."

Rais said he was given the message by Hambali, another Indonesian preacher who was believed to be bin Laden's key link to Southeast Asia. Hambali was arrested in 2003 in Thailand and is in U.S. custody.

Bashir, 66, is on trial over charges he leads Jemaah Islamiah, a shadowy group seen as the regional arm of al Qaeda.

He is also accused of using "religious charisma" to incite attacks, including the suicide bombing of Jakarta's JW Marriott Hotel in 2003 that killed 12 people, and nightclub bombings in Bali in 2002 that left 202 dead, mostly foreign tourists.

Both attacks were blamed on Jemaah Islamiah.

Rais, who is in his late 20s, said bin Laden had also sent his regards to Bashir in the message. Rais is serving seven years jail for involvement in the Marriott strike.

In response, Bashir told the court he often received messages from many people but could not remember them all. While bin Laden may have sent one, Bashir said he believed he had not.

Bashir has consistently denied links to terrorism and insists Jemaah Islamiah does not exist, although has called bin Laden a true Islamic warrior.

Prosecutors have said Bashir ordered JI members to spread statements from bin Laden calling for war against Americans.

Another witness, Tohir, who is serving 10 years over the Marriott attack, told the court Bashir had not ordered the strike on the hotel or been the inspiration for the act.


An earlier witness, Yudi Lukito, also known as Ismail Abdurrahman, told the trial the cleric once gave a speech at a training camp run by Islamic rebels in the southern Philippines.

Lukito said Bashir spoke about the need for Muslim solidarity at the camp run by rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Mindanao island in mid-2000.

Lukito, who is serving time for weapons offences, said he was undergoing military training at the MILF camp when Bashir came.

"In one ceremony, he made the closing speech which was about brotherhood among Muslims and the need to help each other. He was not the commander there. He came as a guest," Lukito told the court as Bashir sat impassively with his lawyers.

Security analysts say there is overwhelming evidence the MILF has sheltered and shared training with Jemaah Islamiah members at its camps in Mindanao, but add it is unclear whether the MILF leadership continues to sanction the links.

Prosecutors have said Bashir visited a Jemaah Islamiah camp in the Philippines in 2000, where he gave speech that incited JI members to carry out the Marriott attack three years later.

Bashir served 18 months for immigration violations but was re-arrested using anti-terror statutes in April. His trial began in October and is expected to drag on into next year.

He had earlier been arrested shortly after bombs ripped through two Bali bars in 2002 but courts later ruled charges brought under the criminal code over his leadership of Jemaah Islamiah and links to previous violence were unproven.

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