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The top remaining suspect in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings went on trial today, more than a decade after the attacks brought international attention to Jemaah Islamiyah, a previously overlooked Al Qaeda-linked group operating in Southeast Asia.
Umar Patek, believed to be a member of the group, is accused of building the bombs used in the attacks, which killed 202 people. He was captured in January 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan – the same town where Osama bin Laden was hiding when he was captured and killed by the US – and extradited from Pakistan in August. He began trial today in Jakarta.
With Mr. Patek's capture and the trial and execution of the three "masterminds" of the 2002 Bali bombings, authorities say they've made substantial progress dismantling Jemaah Islamiyah, the Associated Press reports. At the time of Patek's arrest, he was one of the region's most wanted terrorists and carried a $1 million bounty.
Patek is also accused of a series of Christmas Eve bombings at churches in 2000, according to AP.
Reuters describes the Bali nightclub bombings as a "watershed" for Indonesia, forcing the secular state, which is also home to the world's largest Muslim population, to "confront the presence of violent militants on its soil." Almost 600 militants were detained after the bombings and most of them have been convicted. The militant threat was greatly diminished as a result, aided by the lack of popular support for violent militants.
Patek faces charges of premeditated murder, bombmaking, and illegal firearms possession, among others, but no terrorism charges because the country's terrorism law came into effect in 2003 and cannot be applied retroactively, according to BBC. Prosecutors said they will push for the death penalty, but Patek may be sentenced to life imprisonment instead.
The 1,540-pound bomb built by Patek – known as "demolition man" for his expertise with bombs – was hidden inside filing cabinets and loaded into a van, which was then detonated outside the two nightclubs, mostly killing foreign tourists. Patek told interrogators he built the bomb using basic household items, such as a rice ladle, a grocer's scale, and plastic bags, the Associated Press reports.
While homemade bombs are commonly used by militants all over, ones as powerful as the one made by Patek – out of household items – indicates an "enormous amount of care and expertise," according to AP. Patek told interrogators he learned to make bombs while at a militant academy in Pakistan from 1991-94 and later in Afghanistan. He was living in Indonesia when one of the plotters of the nightclub bombings asked him about making a bomb for the attacks.
He left Bali a few days before the attacks happened, heading to the Philippines, where he joined local extremist group Abu Sayyaf and trained militants and plotted attacks. Patek was in Pakistan, en route to Afghanistan, when he was caught. He hoped to fight alongside the Taliban or another militant group and had refused an offer to teach at a militant camp in Indonesia, AP reports.
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