Indonesia hotel bombing suspect goes on trial

JAKARTA: A suspected member of late terror leader Noordin Mohammad Top's network went on trial in Indonesia Wednesday charged over twin suicide attacks on luxury hotels in Jakarta last year.

The bombings killed seven people as well as the two suicide bombers and marked the bloody end of a four-year hiatus in attacks attributed to Noordin and Al-Qaeda-linked regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah.

Noordin's alleged driver, Amir Abdillah, could face multiple death sentences if convicted on charges that include carrying out an act of terrorism, providing explosive materials and harbouring terrorist suspects.

Prosecutors said he was also part of a plot to assassinate Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and had booked a room at the JW Marriott hotel which the bombers used to prepare their attacks.

"He assisted in an act of terrorism by way of purposely using violence and stirring an atmosphere of terror and widespread fear," prosecutor Totok Bambang said.

Two Islamic extremists with backpacks filled with homemade bombs blew themselves up at the neighbouring JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in downtown Jakarta on July 17.

Three Australians, a New Zealander and a Dutch couple were among the dead as the bombers targeted a meeting of foreign businessmen and a restaurant popular with Western guests.

Abdillah wore the white garb of a devout Muslim, joked with journalists and smiled during the hearing, but was not required to enter a plea.

Asked by journalists outside the court whether he regretted his actions, he thought for a few seconds and replied: "Yes".

Police have said his arrest shortly after the hotel blasts was crucial to subsequent operations which ultimately led to the killing or capture of Malaysian Islamist Noordin and several of his accomplices.

Noordin, who was killed by police in September, led a splinter faction of Jemaah Islamiyah which he dubbed "Al-Qaeda in the Malay Archipelago".

In addition to the hotel blasts, he was blamed for a 2003 attack on the Marriott, the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta and 2005 attacks on tourist restaurants on Bali, killing almost 50 people in total.

Jemaah Islamiyah carried out the 2002 bombings of nightspots on the resort island of Bali which killed 202 people, mainly Western tourists, as well as other attacks targeting Indonesian Christians.

Noordin and his followers dreamt of creating an Islamic caliphate spanning much of Southeast Asia and advocated the use of indiscriminate violence to protect Muslims from perceived oppression around the world.

He was inspired by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's call for global jihad against the West and allegedly received funding from Al-Qaeda for the first Marriott bombing.

Police say more than a dozen of his accomplices have been killed and six arrested since the July 17 blasts, including a Saudi national who allegedly provided funding for the attack.

The dead suspects include a florist who worked at one of the hotels and helped the suicide bombers penetrate the establishments' airport-style security and conduct extensive pre-attack surveillance.

One of the bombers stayed for several days as a guest at the Marriott before launching his suicide mission.

The prosecution alleged Abdillah had also transported explosive materials to a rented house on the outskirts of Jakarta where extremists were building a truck bomb to be used against the president.

"The plan was to crash the car into the president's convoy with eight sacks of bombs," Bambang said.