Four Uyghur men on trial in Jakarta on terrorism charges testified Monday that they never tried to meet with Indonesia’s most-wanted terrorist, but were visiting the region where he is thought to be hiding as tourists.
“We just asked someone to take us around. The accusation of wanting to meet with Santoso is false. We don’t speak Indonesian, so there seems to have been a misunderstanding,” defendant Ahmet Bozoglan told the North Jakarta District Court through a translator.
Bozoglan and three other Uyghurs were arrested last September in a part of Central Sulawesi province that, Indonesian officials say, is a hotbed of terrorist activity and a haven for Santoso, head of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT).
The four have been charged under anti-terrorism and immigration laws because they entered Indonesia with false Turkish passports and visas, public prosecutor Dicky Octavian said.
“The four defendants were involved in dangerous activities linked to terrorism in Poso and the Santoso group,” Dicky told BenarNews.
Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) says the four are suspected of financing travel for Indonesians to join the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
Monday was day two of the trial, which started March 23.
Bozoglan Ahmet is being tried separately from the three other Uyghur defendants: Ahmet Mahmud, Abdullah (alias Altinci Bayyram) and Abdulbasit Tuzer.
Middle of the Night
At Bozoglan’s hearing on Monday, a witness for the prosecution who claimed to have been an MIT member testified that he met the four Uyghurs at a relative’s home in Palu, Central Sulawesi’s capital, on Sept. 12, 2014.
The witness, Akbar, then took them to a place with rooms for rent, where they stayed several hours.
“At 11 p.m., Saiful, a member of the Palu group, picked them up in a rental car to Poso. I don’t know where they were going. They couldn’t speak Indonesian,” Akbar told the court.
“I heard they were arrested on television,” he said, adding, “I went to my parents’ house and contacted Santoso on Facebook.”
Akbar said he knew Santoso from participating in a two-week military training in the mountains of Poso. There, participants plotted to enforce Sharia Islam in eastern Indonesia by waging war on the government.
A second witness, Ahmad Firdaus, 24, said he met the four at the boarding house.
“Akbar said one of them was his brother-in-law, and they were on vacation. They left in the middle of the night,” Ahmad testified.
Bozoglan denied the witness testimony.
“We didn’t know where we were going. It’s true we stopped in Palu for three hours, but we didn’t know whose house it was. We didn’t know who Saiful was. We just wanted to be tourists,” he said.
Asludin Hatjani, a lawyer for the four, declined to say much to BenarNews, citing preparations for the next court date.
“My clients were just visiting Sulawesi. Other witnesses will be presented at the next court hearing on April 6,” he said.
Indonesian officials have said the four men would be repatriated to China when their trial is over.
Uyghurs are a Muslim minority in China who live mostly in its restive northwestern Xinjiang region.
The Chinese government claims that some 300 Uyghurs from Xinjiang have joined IS.