BALI: An Islamic militant appeared in court yesterday in the first of a series of trials over the Bali bombings, which the prosecution said were driven by a desire for revenge on the United States and its allies.
Amrozi, a 40-year-old mechanic and dubbed by the press as the laughing bomber, was stony-faced when he took the defendant's chair and fidgeted as the prosecution read out the lengthy indictment.
As the charges were read, hundreds of police surrounded the courthouse in Bali's capital, Denpasar, helicopters hovered overhead and sharpshooters nervously eyed the area.
Amrozi has been charged under tough new anti-terrorism laws with helping plot terror acts and is accused of buying explosive materials and a minivan that was later turned into a massive bomb.
He faces the death penalty.
Prosecutors said Amrozi took part in six planning meetings for the attacks that killed 202 people, many of them young foreigners enjoying a night out in packed bars along Bali's famous Kuta Beach strip.
“They talked about the Muslim obligation towards other Muslims who have been repressed and slaughtered by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir ... and Iraq,” prosecutor Urip Tri Gunawan said, reading from the indictment.
The trial was adjourned for a week to give the prosecution time to respond to legal objections from the defence.
Amrozi, sporting a goatee and wearing a long white shirt, was ushered out under heavy security.
The case is the first of a series that will test the government's commitment to stamping out Islamic radicalism in the world's most populous Muslim nation.
More than 30 people are expected to be tried over the October 12 attacks.
Among them are two of Amrozi's brothers.
Officials say the trials could also provide details of how Jemaah Islamiah, the radical Southeast Asian Muslim network blamed for the bombings, operates.
Amrozi's lawyers said the indictment failed to show their client took part in the planning of the bombings.
“There is not even one description in the indictment that can support the charges that the defendant was a planner,” lawyer A. Wirawan Adnan told the court, triggering loud jeers from 100 Balinese watching on television sets in a neighbouring compound.
Amrozi's demeanour in court was far different from the scene at a public police interrogation a month after the bombings when he appeared to express delight at the attacks.
There were few foreign survivors but several Indonesian victims' relatives at the hearing.
Two left the venue sobbing before the session ended.
“To be honest with you, this is the best thing that could have happened. When Amrozi walked in I felt something lifted off me,” Australian Peter Hughes said at the back of the courtroom, grabbing at bandages on his arms that still cover burn scars.
The blasts shattered Bali's image as a safe playground for tourists drawn to its famed beaches and rich culture.
“The Balinese have suffered greatly from all this. All those who did it should be put to death,” said garment trader Komang Budhi, 25, wearing red sunglasses and a white singlet with the words “Cry Bali” and “Black October” emblazoned on the front.
Under pressure to crack down on Islamic militancy, Jakarta will face international criticism if judges fail to hand out tough verdicts to the defendants if found guilty of carrying out the worst terror act since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.
Amrozi is among several key suspects, although police have accused others of playing more important roles in the attacks.
The alleged spiritual head of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah, Abu Bakar Bashir, is on trial in Jakarta for treason charges unrelated to Bali.
He has denied any wrongdoing. – Reuters
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