JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Muslim militant suspected of building the bombs used in the 2002 Bali attack went on trial Monday on terrorism charges, a year after he was captured in the same Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was hiding.
Umar Patek is the top remaining suspect in the Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people about a year after the Sept. 11 attacks and brought international attention to an al-Qaida-linked group intent on creating a pan-Islamic state throughout Southeast Asia.
Three masterminds in the attack already have been tried and executed, and authorities have made big strides in dismantling their regional terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah.
But Patek, nicknamed "Demolition Man" by Indonesian investigators, escaped the country after the attack and went on a nine-year flight from justice that took him to the Philippines and Pakistan, allegedly in pursuit of more terror opportunities.
Patek was captured in January 2011 in Abbottabad, where U.S. Navy Seals would kill Osama bin Laden just a few months later. Patek was then one of Asia's most wanted terror suspects, with a $1 million bounty on his head.
The trial could shed light on what Patek was doing in Abbottabad.
Indonesia's Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro has said he was believed to be trying to meet with bin Laden, but Patek has denied that, saying he was on way to seek shelter in Afghanistan. U.S. and Pakistan investigators have suggested Patek's stay in Abottabad was pure coincidence.
Patek, who also is accused in a string of Christmas Eve bombings at churches in 2000 that claimed 19 lives, was tightly guarded as he entered the West Jakarta District Court on Monday.
He smiled to reporters and photographers but did not respond to questions shouted by journalists. Wearing a white robe and a white skullcap, Patek, 45, sat quietly as the indictment was read out by prosecutors.
"His involvement in the Bali bombing, as well as the church attacks, were 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 and who has several aliases, could face death by firing squad if convicted of the various charges against him. The indictment includes charges of 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 said, adding that his team will seek the death penalty.
After the charges were read, presiding judge Lexsy Mamoto adjourned the trial until next Monday. Patek then shook hands with all of the prosecutors except Rini Hartati, the only female member. Hartati held out her hand, but Patek rejected it by putting his right hand on his chest.
In a re-enactment organized by police in Bali while he was in custody there, Patek showed how he and other conspirators stashed a 1,540-pound (700-kilogram) bomb in four filing cabinets, loaded it in a Mitsubishi L300 van along with a TNT vest bomb.
The van was detonated outside two nightclubs on Bali's famous Kuta beach.
Patek left Bali a few days before the Oct. 12 attacks, while Imam Samudra and two other masterminds of the Bali attacks – brothers Amrozi Nurhasyim and Ali Ghufron – were caught, tried and executed.
Patek later told interrogators that he and other militants involved in the Bali bombing met a week after the attack to celebrate and assess how they could have done it better.
"The meeting was led by Muklas to evaluate the shortcomings of the execution of the suicide bombings," he was quoted as saying in an interrogation report obtained by The Associated Press. "The meeting was also to thank God and eat together for the success of the bombings that we had carried out in Bali."
Farihin, a former Jemaah Islamiyah member, said in an interview that Patek may have been involved in assembling the bombs but that he did not believe he was one of the masterminds of the Bali attack.
Farihin implied that Patek should seek leniency from the court.
"I would tell him to express regret, to say that it would not happen again," Farihin said.