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Indonesian cleric may face death penalty

Prosecutors have charged senior Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir with plotting terror attacks in Indonesia. Under the anti-terrorism law, the man suspected of being behind the Bali bombing might face the death sentence.

Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir waves to supporters surrounding him

Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is charged with crimes that carry the dealth penalty

On Wednesday, the prosecutors in the Indonesian capital Jakarta officially announced their findings on the case of 72-year-old Abu Bakar Bashir, who is considered to be the spiritual head of the Jemaah Islamiyah network that is linked to al-Qaida. Included in the 93-page indictment are seven charges, some of which carry the maximum penalty of death.

Charges of funding and inciting terrorism

The prosecutors’ strongest charges against Bashir include funding and encouraging others to plan as well as to conduct acts of terrorism. When arrested last August, police suspected Bashir of assisting a militant training camp in the province of Aceh with his relatively new organization Jamaat Tawhid Anshoru (JAT).

Abu Bakar Bashir, center, is escorted by security officers upon arrival for his trial at a court in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2005

Having failed twice, the Indonesian authorities are now confident of convicting Bashir

Bashir, who is well known as a firebrand cleric, was also charged with buying and selling weapons and explosives for the purpose of conducting terror attacks. These charges carry jail sentences of three to 15 years.

Bashir himself has rejected the charges. Outside the courtroom, his lawyer said that "the article (in the Indonesian constitution) allows officers too much subjectivity in arresting or not arresting someone." Despite this counterattack, the Indonesian authorities are confident that they will be able to have Bashir convicted this time.

Bashir’s detention was set to expire on February 10. Now that the charges have been officially announced, the trial is expected to begin next week. 138 witnesses are to testify in the case. This will be the third trial for Bashir. In the past, Indonesian authorities failed to prove his direct involvement in some of the major terror attacks in the country.

The man behind the Bali bombings?

Police officers inspect the ruins of a nightclub destroyed by an explosion in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002.

The bomb attack in one of Bali's crowded clubs in 2002 killed over 180 people

For the last 10 years, a number of militants linked to Jemaah Islamiyah have conducted a series of attacks in Indonesia, killing over 260 people. Some of the most serious attacks that caused international concern were the Bali bombings in 2002 that killed 88 Australians among others, the JW Mariott bomb attack in Jakarta in 2003 and the attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004.

Bashir has previously denied any involvement in Jemaah Islamiyah and their attacks, saying he does not even believe that the group exists. Bashir often blames the US, saying that the attacks are a conspiracy to put him in jail. After the bombings that hit one of Bali's most touristic sites, he was jailed on minor charges but was released in 2006 after serving almost 26 months.

Author: Anggatira Gollmer
Editor: Sarah Berning

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