He’s known to investigators as the “Demolition Man,” a mysterious figure who appeared in court in Indonesia this week to face prosecution in connection with a deadly Bali bombing that took place nearly a decade ago.
For many, the coming terrorism trial of Muslim militant Umar Patek brings back a whiff of the fear that pervaded the globe after the September 11, 2001, US terror attacks.
Barely a year after the attacks, officials said, Patek allegedly built a collection of bombs, some of which killed 202 people in a Bali nightclub and focused authorities’ attention on an al-Qaeda-linked network that set its sights on causing mayhem in Southeast Asia.
Three other suspects in the attack have already been convicted and executed as Indonesian authorities try to quash the leadership of the regional terror group, known as Jemaah Islamiyah.
Patek was captured last year in Abbottabad, the same Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was hiding, officials say. His arrest ended a nine-year flight from prosecution that authorities say took him to the Philippines and Pakistan as he sought to mastermind other attacks. He was captured with a $1-million bounty on his head.
The 45-year-old suspect and his activities over the years have been shrouded in mystery. For investigators, the main question remains: What he was doing in Abbottabad?
Indonesian authorities have speculated that the slightly built Patek had sought to meet with bin Laden. Patek denies that claim, insisting he was en route to Afghanistan, and US officials say they believe his stay in the small Pakistani town was coincidence.
His appearance last Monday in a district courtroom in Jakarta was pure theater. Tightly guarded, Patek smiled when he entered the courtroom and even tried to shake hands with prosecutors.
Wearing a white robe and a white cap, he ignored questions shouted by journalists and sat quietly as the indictment was read out by prosecutors.
“His involvement in the Bali bombing...[was] not as big as is being described,” Patek’s chief lawyer, Ashluddin Hatjani, told reporters afterward. “We will challenge that in a defense plea next week.”
Patek, whose real name is Hisyam bin Alizein, faces death by firing squad if convicted of charges that include premeditated murder, hiding information about terrorism, illegal possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit terrorism.
“Umar Patek is really dangerous.... He has caused the death of many people,” lead prosecutor Bambang Suharijadi told the court before the trial was adjourned until next week.
Authorities say Patek and his co-conspirators hid a 1,540-pound bomb in four filing cabinets before loading it in a Mitsubishi L300 van along with a TNT vest bomb. The van was detonated outside two nightclubs along Bali’s popular Kuta tourist beach.