"You should be peaceful, patient and witness carefully," Abu Bakr Bashir said in a brief statement to the roughly 60 followers in the heavily guarded courtroom.

"I ask the panel of judges and the prosecutors to beware of efforts to intervene by the enemies of Allah. There should be no infiltration."

As he entered the courtroom to shouts of "Allahu Akbar", the smiling Bashir lashed out at "Satan America", "George Bush ... and his slave (Australian prime minister) John Howard", naming them as the forces behind the trial.

Dozens convicted

Prosecutors allege the 66-year-old Indonesian cleric of Yemeni origin, heads the shadowy al-Qaida-affiliated Jemaah Islamiya, an organisation blamed for numerous terrorist acts in Indonesia since 2000. Bashir, who denies the group exists, is charged with inciting and sanctioning some of those attacks.

The JW Marriott hotel bombing in
Jakarta last year killed 12 people

Dozens of Jemaah Islamiya members have been convicted of involvement in the October 2002 bombing of a Balinese nightclub and the bombing of the US-owned JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta 11 months later.

Many of those convicted are graduates of conservative religious boarding schools Bashir ran in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Mass casualties

Prosecutors have used the country's tough anti-terrorism laws to charge Bashir with encouraging the Marriott bombing, although he was in jail at the time of the explosion that killed 11 people.

They claim he incited trainees at a Jemaah Islamiya camp in the southern Philippines in 2000 to attack Western targets, and read a fatwa written by Usama bin Ladin that "permitted the waging of war against, and the killing of Americans and their allies."

"I ask the panel of judges and the prosecutors to beware of efforts to intervene by the enemies of Allah. There should be no infiltration"

Abu Bakr Bashir,
Indonesian Muslim cleric

"Bashir ... planned and/or moved other people to conduct terrorism crimes, on purpose and consciously using violence or the threat of violence to create the atmosphere of terror, resulting in mass casualties," prosecutor Salman Maryadi said, reading from a 65-page indictment.

Chain bombings

The first of the attacks subsequently blamed on Jemaah Islamiya occurred within months of Bashir's alleged visit to the Philippine training camp.

On Christmas Eve 2000, 38 bombs were placed at churches and the homes of priests across Indonesia. While many of the devices misfired, 19 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

Indonesia has been rocked by a
series of bombings since 2000

Bashir is also charged under the criminal code with involvement in the Bali attack that killed more than 200 people, many of them foreign tourists.

The indictment alleges Bashir approved of the strike in a brief conversation with JI operative Amrozi bin Nurhasyim two months before a powerful car bomb tore through the packed Sari nightclub.

Burden of proof

Amrozi allegedly asked Bashir: "How about if we had an event in Bali?", to which his former teacher replied, "It's up to you all, you know the situation in the field."

Known as the "smiling bomber" Amrozi was convicted of helping plan the Bali bombing and is now sitting on death row.

"Bashir ... planned and/or moved other people to conduct terrorism crimes, on purpose and consciously using violence or the threat of violence to create the atmosphere
of terror, resulting in mass casualties"

Salman Maryadi,
Indonesian prosecutor

Prosecutors did not use the anti-terror laws to charge Bashir with the Bali bomb because of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the laws could not be applied retroactively.

The laws, which require less of a burden of proof than the criminal code, were passed within weeks of the Bali attacks.

Bashir, who enjoys some high-level political support in Indonesia, was first arrested within weeks of the Bali bombing.

Chances slim

A Jakarta appeals court last year threw out a conviction for plotting to overthrow the government but upheld an 18-month sentence on a comparatively minor immigration charge. He was re-arrested in April after serving his sentence and has been imprisoned ever since.

The 2002 Bali bombings turned
the heat on Jemaah Islamiya

Prosecutors are expected to call almost 80 witnesses in a trial that would last six months.

However, those like Amrozi who were closest to the conspiracy refused to testify against Bashir in his last trial, and without their full cooperation, most analysts say chances of a conviction on the most serious charges are slim.

"It's going to be pretty hard to prove because you've got many hostile witnesses and there are many links in the chain of the story that can break if anyone recants on the witness stand," Sidney Jones, Asia director of the International Crisis Group and a leading authority on Jemaah Islamiya, said.

"Their best shot could be on the charges relating to the use of explosives to cause death."

Elite force

"It's going to be pretty hard to prove because you've got many hostile witnesses and there are many links in the chain
of the story that can break if anyone recants on the witness stand"

Sidney Jones,
Asia Director,
International Crisis Group

The trial is being held under tight security in a agriculture ministry meeting hall that was converted to handle a corruption hearing of former president Suharto in 2000 that never materialised.

The building was ringed by roughly 700 police officers and the court patrolled by military police and heavily armed members of the US-trained Team 88, an elite force formed to track down the remaining members of JI, including those responsible for August's explosion outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

Bashir, who denies any foreknowledge of the Bali or Marriot bombings, denounced the attack on the embassy, which claimed seven lives.

Prosecutors spent Wednesday's session reading the indictment into the record. The trial will resume on 4 November.