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Asia

Firebrand cleric on trial in Indonesia

The trial of the cleric regarded as the spiritual leader of militant Islam in Indonesia, Abu Bakar Bashir, has started under high security, following recent religious clashes in the country.

Radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir escorted by anti-terror police as he arrives at Indonesian police headquarters in Jakarta

Bashir's supporters chanted 'God is great' outside the courtroom

Supporters of the 72-year old radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir surrounded the court in the capital Jakarta, while heavily armed police stood by to prevent further outbreaks of violence that have been happening in the country. Bashir entered the courtroom wearing his usual white robes. The words 'jihad' (holy war) and 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest) were chanted in the background by his followers.

Low-key start

A monument for the victims of the Bali bombings

A monument for the victims of the Bali bombings

The trial, however, was quickly adjourned, after Bashir’s defense team complained that they were not given the minimum three-day notice to appear in court. The hearing is the biggest test of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism laws since the convictions and executions of three Islamic extremists over the Bali bombings in 2002 that killed over 200 people.

"If you continue to defend secular law, you’ll go to hell when you die. Those infidels are the worst people on earth. The monkeys in the zoo are more honorable," Jamal, one of Bashir’s supporters at the court, told an AFP reporter.

Seven charges

Bashir was arrested last August after police suspected that he might be setting up and financing a terror training camp in Aceh whose members plotted to kill President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono among others. Last week the prosecutors officially announced seven charges against Bashir, including buying and selling weapons in order to conduct terror acts. He is also suspected to be the man behind the Bali bombings and the attack on the Marriot hotel in Jakarta in 2003. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The senior cleric, who is believed to be a senior leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, has been denying all of the charges, claiming that he is being framed by the US government. However, the cleric regularly praises al Qaeda-style jihad in his preachings. Many radical Islamists in the region see him as a hero.

A policeman tries to keep order in front of the damaged Marriot Hotel in Jakarta in 2003

The blast in the Marriot hotel in 2003 killed at least 13 people and injured over 130

It is the third trial for the founder of the notorious Ngruki Islamic boarding school. A number of the school's alumni have been convicted on terrorism charges in Indonesia over the past few years. After proven guilty for minor charges in the Bali bombings, Bashir served 26 months behind bars and was set free in 2006.

New organization for an Islamic state in the region

After some quiet years following his release, Bashir set up a new radical organization called Jamaat Tawhid Anshoru (JAT), working on the creation of an Islamic state spanning the region of Southeast Asia. Police say JAT provided support to other groups that were training to carry out Mumbai-style attacks on Western targets. The training camp was discovered last March in Aceh. It had been led by Indonesian bomb maker Dulmatin, who was killed by the Indonesian police. During the raid, police also arrested 30 other members. Some of them have received prison sentences of seven to 14 years.

Author: Anggatira Gollmer (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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