Malaysian prisoners at Guantanamo plead guilty to murder in 2002 Bali bombings

John Bechtel
Fort Meade, United States
Malaysian prisoners at Guantanamo plead guilty to murder in 2002 Bali bombings An Army captain walks outside unoccupied detainee cells inside Camp 6 at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Feb. 6, 2016.
Ben Fox/AP file photo

Two Malaysian terror suspects pleaded guilty to murder in the 2002 Bali bombings – Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist attack – as they appeared in a U.S. military court on Tuesday at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they have been incarcerated for at least 17 years.

Defendants Mohammed bin Lep and Mohammed bin Amin, however, both pleaded not guilty to the portion of the charge related to a deadly bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003. It was the first time they were entering pleas in the case against them since being brought to and locked up at the American navy base back in 2006. 

In all, the two pleaded guilty to five of the nine charges against them listed in documents filed in January 2021. Judge Wesley A. Braun, a U.S. Air Force officer hearing the case, spent most of the day questioning the pair to determine if he should accept their guilty pleas.

Along with the murder charge, bin Lep and bin Amin pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious bodily injury and destruction of property in the twin bombings in Bali in October 2002, conspiracy and accessory after the fact.

“You intended to kill one or more persons,” the judge told the two Malaysians, who replied “yes” as Braun read out criteria related to count one during the courtroom deliberations.  

Bin Lep and bin Amin pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, terrorism and two charges related to attacking civilians.

“Is there any evidence that finds Mr. bin Lep or Mr. bin Amin acted in a position of command,” the judge asked prosecutors after a lunch break that allowed the Muslim defendants time to perform their prayers.

In response to the judge’s question related to the conspiracy charge, prosecutors replied “no.”

An unidentified prisoner reads a newspaper in a communal cellblock at Camp VI, a prison used to house detainees at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, March 5, 2013. [Bob Strong/Reuters file photo]

The hearing in Guantanamo was broadcast via a video link to reporters covering it from Fort Meade, a U.S. Army base in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C.

During Tuesday’s court session, bin Lep wore a gray shirt beneath a black songkok hat, which is commonly worn by Muslim men in Malaysia. Bin Amin, who was hatless, wore a cream-colored shirt. 

Detailing the 2002 Bali bombings, the charging documents state that a suicide bomber walked into Paddy’s Bar and detonated a vest while a second suicide bomber drove an “explosives-laden” van to a location near the Sari Club before detonating the bomb. A third bomb was remotely detonated near the U.S. Consulate.

As many as 202 people, including many Indonesians and Australians, were killed in the Oct. 12, 2002, bombings. They were blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda, the global terror network that was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

The Bali attack also claimed the lives of seven American citizens. Eleven people died in the bombing at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta on Aug. 5, 2003.

Following their 2003 arrests, bin Lep and bin Amin, along with Indonesian Encep Nurjaman, were sent to CIA black sites where they were tortured, according to a 2014 U.S. Senate report. They were transferred three years later to Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they remain in custody.

Starting at the end of 2001, “including the periods before, during, and after the October 12, 2002, Bali bombings,” bin Lep and bin Amin helped Nurjaman “transfer money for operations, and obtain and store items such as fraudulent identification documents, weapons and instructions on how to make bombs,” the charging document stated.

The documents refer to the accused as “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents.” 

The military court at Guantanamo separated Nurjaman (known as Hambali) from bin Amin and bin Lep ahead of their guilty pleas.

Hambali is awaiting trial at the U.S. base in Cuba on similar charges.

The sentencing phase in the trial of the two Malaysians is expected to begin next week. 

Tuesday’s courtroom session ended a little before 5 p.m. (U.S. Eastern time) without any decision announced by Judge Braun. The hearing will resume on Wednesday morning.  

Residents and foreign tourists evacuate the scene of a bomb blast in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 13, 2002. A car bomb outside Sari Club and a suicide bombing at nearby Paddy's Pub in Kuta on Oct. 12, 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. [Radar Bali/AP file photo]

During their arraignment at Guantanamo in August 2021, the lawyers for the three Southeast Asians spent much of the time protesting before military Judge Hayes Larsen about the poor quality of translations by interpreters assigned by the U.S. military to the court. Larsen has since left the case. 

The three Southeast Asians did not enter pleas following that hearing. 

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, the two Malaysians and Hambali were among hundreds of suspected Muslim militants and al-Qaeda members who were rounded up by the U.S. across the globe and brought to the naval base in Cuba. Many of them were blindfolded and shackled as they were flown in from abroad, according to news reports from the time.  

Thirty inmates remain incarcerated at Guantanamo after the U.S. government closed down part of the prison. 

Next month, Khaled Sheikh Mohammad, the al-Qaeda operative accused of being the architect of the 9/11 attacks, and several other defendants will be the focus of pre-trial hearings at Guantanamo, U.S. military officials announced recently.   


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