Indonesia cleric denies charges

Abu Bakar Bashir tells court that under Islamic law training fighters is acceptable but he denies any involvement in it.

    Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir faces a maximum penalty of death if found guilty of supporting armed group  [EPA]

    Indonesia's best known Islamic cleric has denied that he helped set up, fund and arm a training camp for fighters in the country's west.

    Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-linked network Jemaah Islamiyah, appeared at a South Jakarta Court on Thursday.

    The 72-year-old imam told judges that under Islamic law, the training camp in Ache province was acceptable.

    However, he did not admit to being involved in it or funding it, saying that he was the victim of a US conspiracy.

    Prosecutors say the training camp uncovered last year in Aceh had been planning Mumbai-style gun attacks on foreigners in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and the assassination of prominent figures such as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

    Outspoken defiance

    Bashir, who faces a maximum penalty of death, was met by hundreds of supporters who packed the courtroom and gathered outside.

    Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen. reporting from the court in Jakarta, said that the court was "the best podium Bashir could have wished for - with the judges, local and international media, and hundreds of his supporters".

    "He read out a 90-page statement campaigning for an Islamic state in Indonesia, and defended the establishment of the military training camp in Aceh, saying that it was acceptable under Islamic law."

    He said that the accusation against him "was an order from foreign countries, because the US and Australia do not want to see me free".

    "The police want to make sure I stay in jail. They'd like to kill me, if they could."

    Previous convictions

    He called the government and security forces of Indonesia "infidels". The country has more Muslims than any other in the world.

    "They should be imposing Islamic law,'' he said. "That's it ... no bargaining, no arguing."

    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."

    Among other charges, the 93-page indictment against him says that he "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."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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