Indonesia cleric on 'terror trial'

Abu Bakar Bashir charged with planning to use weapons to commit acts of terror, but radical cleric protests innocence.

    The Indonesian cleric has said that the charges filed against him were "fabricated" [EPA]

    Indonesia's most well-known radical cleric has been charged with planning to use weapons to commit acts of terror.

    But Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-linked network Jemaah Islamiyah, insisted the charges filed against him were "fabricated" as he arrived at the South Jakarta District Court on Monday.

    "I understand in principle that I am being accused of being the leader of a militant group in Aceh. Such allegations have been engineered and are just empty talk," he told the judges after hearing the charges against him. 

    In his cell before the trial, he told reporters: "This is all made up... I did nothing. I was only defending Islam." 

    Bashir faces a maximum penalty of death if found guilty of helping fund a new terror cell in Aceh province and mobilising foot soldiers.

    His trial opened on February 10, but was swiftly adjourned on a technicality. It resumed on Monday in a court filled with supporters shouting "Allahu akbar" or "God is greatest".

    Indonesia has won praise for largely defeating terror groups, but analysts and rights groups say a recent increase in acts of religious intolerance shows extremism still has a hold on the world's most populous Muslim nation.

    In recent weeks, hardliners also have stepped up attacks on Christians and minority sect members.

    Despite no significant terror attacks in Indonesia for nearly two years, security in the capital is pervasive, with checkpoints placed at the entrance of all major shopping malls, hotels, embassies and government buildings.

    Shadowy movement

    The 72-year-old Bashir, is officially the caretaker of an Islamic boarding school on Java island but has long been considered the spiritual leader of the shadowy Jemaah Islamiyah movement, which seeks to establish a Muslim caliphate across Southeast Asia.

    He was found not guilty of terror offences in two previous trials that attempted to link him to the Bali bombings. This time, he faces charges related to mobilising others to commit acts of terror.

    "Abu Bakar Bashir planned and mobilised other people to break Indonesian law by providing firearms, munitions, explosive materials and other dangerous materials to be used to carry out an act of terrorism," according to a copy of the 93-page indictment against Bashir seen by the AFP news agency.

    Bashir is also the "Amir" of the above-ground Jema'ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) Islamic group, which draws support from thousands of often unemployed youths who attend public rallies and sermons by firebrand preachers.

    Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, has said that violent, hardline groups should be disbanded.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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