An Indonesian militant who allegedly made the explosives used in the 2002 Bali bombings was escorted home under tight security Thursday, more than six months after he was captured in northwest Pakistan.
Umar Patek had a $1 million bounty on his head when authorities caught up with him Jan. 25 in Abbottabad – the same town where Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. commando attack four months later.
Indonesia’s anti-terrorism chief, Ansyaad Mbai, told The Associated Press it did not appear to be a coincidence that they were in the same place.
“It’s further evidence of the link between the Southeast Asian terror network and al-Qaida,” he added, hours before the 41-year-old boarded an Indonesian plane sent to a Pakistani air force base.
Patek touched down outside Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, on Thursday morning and was taken straight to a police detention center in the West Java town of Kelapa Dua where he will await trial, he said. No date has been announced.
Indonesian officials say Patek has confessed to playing a key role in the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, many of them foreign tourists, including 88 Australians.
He also admitted to making the bombs used in a string of Christmas Eve attacks on churches in 2000 that claimed 19 lives, they say.
But because tough anti-terror laws passed after the Bali blasts cannot be applied retroactively, he will likely be charged with illegal possession of explosives, Mbai said.
Even though that charge also carries a maximum penalty of death, there are concerns he might get off easy.
Indonesia, the nation with the most Muslims in the world, has been hit by a string of terrorist attacks blamed on Patek’s regional militant group, Jemaah Islamiyah, but none as deadly as the Bali blasts.
A highly praised anti-terrorism campaign in the country of 240 million has seen hundreds of suspects arrested and convicted in recent years, but Patek is one of the biggest to have been captured alive.
His arrest in Abbottabad raised questions over whether he was there to meet bin Laden, something that would challenge theories that the al-Qaida chief was cut off from his followers.
U.S officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the issue, have said it appeared to be a coincidence.
But Mbai countered that Wednesday.
Several other militants – from Asia and Europe to the Middle East – also were arrested in the same region of northwest Pakistan at the time of Patek’s arrest, he said.
They had gathered there in hopes of meeting bin Laden, but it was not clear if they’d succeeded or were planning a new terror strike.
“Patek was very valuable for the U.S.,” Mbai said. “He helped lead authorities to bin Laden.”