JAKARTA — One of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorism suspects was flown back to Indonesia on Thursday, months after his arrest by the Pakistani authorities in the same town where Osama Bin Laden was killed.
The suspect, Umar Patek, stands accused in Indonesia of playing a crucial role in various attacks, including the 2002 bombings that killed 202 on the holiday island of Bali, as well as the deadly Christmas Eve church bombings in 2000. His capture in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad in January this year brought to an end an international manhunt that lasted for nearly a decade as well as a militant career that spanned Indonesia, the Philippines and Afghanistan.
Security experts are hopeful that the capture of Mr. Patek, a senior member of the Jemaah Islamiyah regional terrorist network and who also was active in the southern Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf, will shed light on connections between Southeast Asian Islamist militants and international networks, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mr. Patek was driven under heavy security in the early hours Thursday to detention south of Jakarta, where the police questioned him in preparation for filing charges.
Mr. Patek had already admitted under questioning in Pakistan to manufacturing the bombs used in the Bali and Christmas Eve attacks, said Air Marshal Chairul Akbar, general secretary of Indonesia’s National Antiterrorism Agency. But the fact that these attacks happened before 2003 means Indonesia will be unable to prosecute Mr. Patek under a harsh anti-terrorism law, passed that year, he said.
“It’s not really possible that he’d go free, but his punishment could be lighter than possible under the anti-terrorism law,” Air Marshal Akbar said.
It was likely that Mr. Patek would be charged for premeditated murder under Indonesia’s criminal code as well as for violating a decades-old emergency law, said Col. Boy Rafli Amar, a police spokesman. He said there was a possibility Mr. Patek could be charged under the anti-terrorism law with assisting Dulmatin, a fugitive Jemaah Islamiyah militant and a mastermind of the Bali attacks who was killed by Indonesian police in 2010.
The transfer of Mr. Patek more than six months after his capture in Pakistan highlights the international sensitivity of his arrest, which was kept out of the public eye for two months. Although he was wanted in Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines and the United States — which had offered a $1 million reward for his capture — no country has appeared enthusiastic about dealing with Mr. Patek. Indonesian officials had expressed concern that it would be difficult to charge him under its laws.
“We offered to Australia and America to handle it but they didn’t respond,” Air Marshal Akbar of the anti-terrorism agency said. “So whether we like it or not, as an Indonesian citizen, we were forced to bring him home.”
The Foreign Ministry of Australia, which lost 88 citizens in the Bali attack, said in a statement that it believed Indonesia should be the country with the first responsibility for charging Mr. Patek. A spokesman for the American Embassy in Indonesia, Troy E. Pederson, declined to comment except to praise Indonesia in its efforts “to bring him to justice.”
Mr. Patek’s transfer to Indonesia also offers an opportunity to answer another important question that has been the subject of contradictory reports and official utterances: What was a militant widely believed to be hiding in the Philippines doing in Abbottabad, where Bin Laden was killed by American Navy Seals in May?
“Was he trying to meet Osama bin Laden? Who knows,” said Sidney Jones, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Jakarta. “Was he trying to get to Afghanistan to fight? That’s one possibility. Was he trying to open channels for training for Southeast Asians from the Philippines and Indonesia? That’s another possibility. We don’t know the answers and it’s critical to find out.”
“I think the issue of the information he has about international networks will be critical,” Ms. Jones said. “He’s got seriously extensive combat credentials as well as being an explosives trainer.”