Alleged Bali mastermind begs forgiveness

JAKARTA - The bombmaker accused of masterminding the Bali attacks that killed 202 people begged forgiveness from the victims' families Monday, and claimed he did not know that nightclubs would be targeted.

Umar Patek is accused of being a central figure in the 2002 attacks on two nightclubs in Indonesia's Bali, which killed many Western tourists including 88 Australians.

In an emotional appearance at his trial, Patek, who says he was only a bit player in the attacks, claimed he had questioned the decision to target Bali and expressed regret.

"I am taking this opportunity to seek forgiveness from the victims, their families and whoever suffered losses," including the Indonesian government, the 45-year-old said in a voice cracking with emotion.

"I was very sad and regret the incident happened, because I was against it from the start. I never agreed with their methods," Patek told the West Jakarta district court.

Patek, who was arrested in the same Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed just months before the Al-Qaeda chief's death, said he had "no idea" that nightclubs specifically would be targeted.

Patek - who could face the death sentence if convicted - said the plans for the attacks on October 12, 2002, were drawn up at the home of Dulmatin, another Bali cohort, who was killed by police.

"It was mentioned that they will bomb a place with many Westerners as retaliation to the killing of Muslims in Palestine," Patek testified, speaking calmly and gesturing with his hands.

When the idea of attacking Bali was brought up, Patek claimed he raised objections.

"I questioned why in Bali? Jihad should be carried out in Palestine instead. But they said they did not know how to get to Palestine," he said, adding "Dulmatin told me not to think so hard, just help."

Patek allegedly used simple household tools including a rice ladle to assemble the Bali bombs, which according to the court indictment were housed in ordinary filing cabinets.

"The defendant filled up the black powder in four filing cabinets, in the meantime, Dulmatin made the bomb's electronic circuit," the indictment said.

With bombmaker Azahari Husin, a Malaysian killed at a hideout on Java island, Patek assembled the detonating cord and then loaded the filing cabinets into a car, the document added.

But Patek said Monday his role went no further than mixing the explosives.

"I helped to mix the chemicals," he confessed. "Azahari assembled the bombs."

"They loaded explosives onto the car while I stayed inside my room and read the Koran," he added.

Patek is accused of being the expert bombmaker of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian terror network linked to Al-Qaeda. He is also accused of attacking churches in Jakarta on Christmas Eve in 2000.

He was arrested in January last year in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where US commandos later killed bin Laden.

During the trial, evidence emerged that bin Laden gave JI $30,000 to wage jihad in the region and Patek might have met him when he was in Abbottabad, a claim Patek has repeatedly denied.

"I don't know about the source of funds," he said Monday. "In the name of God, I have never met the man named Osama bin Laden," he added.

A special agent with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation Frank Pellegrino testified in April that Patek was widely-known as an expert bombmaker.

According to Pellegrino, a witness interviewed by the FBI in the Philippines reported Patek as saying he "was interested in going back to Pakistan and Afghanistan and working with Osama bin Laden".

Patek was once the most-wanted terror suspect in Indonesia and spent nearly a decade on the run with a $1 million bounty on his head by the United States under its rewards for justice programme.

Prosecutors are seeking the death sentence for Patek on charges that include premeditated murder.

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