JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The suspected leader of Indonesia’s al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah network went on trial Wednesday on charges of terrorism that could result in a death sentence.
Prosecutors told the East Jakarta District Court that Para Wijayanto became leader of the banned organization in 2009. The group was blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
Wijayanto and his wife were arrested last July by counterterrorism police at a hotel in the Jakarta satellite city of Bekasi, following the arrest of nine people believed to be members of his group who had returned from fighting in Iraq and Syria.
The nine other suspects were tried separately in the same court on Wednesday.
“The defendant and his friends have been involved in an evil conspiracy to commit terrorist crimes,” prosecutor Ade Solehudin said. “They made preparations, plans and provided assistance for terrorist attacks.”
Solehudin said Wijayanto, a civil engineer who received military training at a jihadi camp in the southern Philippines in 2000, also was involved in sectarian conflict in Poso, a hotbed of Islamic militancy on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island.
In the indictment, Solehudin said that since 2013, Wijayanto has recruited and trained members of Jemaah Islamiyah’s military wing, sending some to Syria to fight with the al-Qaida-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra. He faces a possible death penalty if convicted.
Police said Wijayanto, who has eluded capture since 2003, was involved in the making of bombs used in a series of attacks including a 2004 bombing at the Australian Embassy that killed nine.
Wijayanto became leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, replacing another militant, Zarkasih, who was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, police said.
A court banned Jemaah Islamiyah in 2008, and the group was weakened by a sustained crackdown on militants by Indonesia’s counterterrorism police with U.S. and Australian support. A new threat has emerged in recent years inspired by Islamic State group attacks abroad.
The country’s last major militant attack was in May 2018, when two families carried out suicide bombings in Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, killing a dozen people including two young girls whose parents had involved them in one of the attacks. Police said the father of the girls was the leader of a militant Jemaah Anshorut Daulah cell.
A radical cleric who founded that group, Aman Abdurrahman, was sentenced to death in 2018 for inciting attacks including a 2016 suicide bombing at a Starbucks in Jakarta.
After the charges against Wijayanto were read, the panel of three judges adjourned the trial until April 1, when the defense will respond.