JI Leader Testifies in Jakarta

JAKARTA ~ An Indonesian militant who has admitted to being the head of Southeast Asian Islamic extremist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) appeared as a witness in another suspect’s terrorism trial on Tuesday.

Zarkasi, 45, said he did not understand many of the terms prosecutors used as they questioned him in the trial of Sarwo Edi Nugroho, and he avoided giving answers in full.

Nugroho, is accused of assisting in an act of terrorism in the religiously-divided district of Poso on Sulawesi island and could face up to 20 years in prison.

Zarkasi admitted to meeting with Nugroho and JI’s military head, Abu Dujana, at a religious event but otherwise denied knowledge of specific attacks.

“I suggested not to go on with plans to retaliate (after one attack by Christians), but I don’t know what happened next,” he said.

The group is accused of sending weapons and explosives to Muslim fighters in restive Poso, where tensions and violence between Christians and Muslims have continued to simmer since 2000 despite a government peace treaty.

Zarkasi denied being involved in supplying the weapons that were destined for Poso, contrary to an earlier statement he made to police.

Head of the panel of three judges Makmun Masdani called him to come to the stand and asked why his accounts differed. Zarkasi stood by his words and denied saying anything contradictory earlier.

Nugroho was arrested with seven other men in Yogyakarta including Dujana during a series of anti-terror raids in March. One other man was killed and another was injured in the raids.

Police had said in the wake of Zarkasi’s arrest in June that he was willing to become a witness for them. They also said that his information had led to the arrests of a number of militant suspects.

After the raids, police also uncovered hundreds of kilograms of explosives, guns and thousands of ammunition rounds in a house just outside of Yogyakarta.

JI has been blamed for some of the region’s worst atrocities in recent years, including the 2002 Bali bombings which left 202 people dead – mostly Western tourists.

Shortly after his arrest, the bespectacled Zarkasi gave a cool recollection in a video statement of how he took on the top job by default in 2004 after a career spent in some of Asia’s terror hotspots, saying he was given the role while the organization hunted for a more suitable leader.

His capture marked a major blow to JI, an organization which has been linked in the past to Al Qaeda and aims to create a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia through violent jihad.

JI is a shadowy organization and information about the structure of the group and who holds which positions is not clearly known.

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