Asia Pacific

Indonesia Hands 15-Year Sentence to Radical Cleric

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — A leading radical Islamic cleric, whom the United States had pressed Indonesia to prosecute aggressively for the past decade, was convicted Thursday of supporting a jihadi training camp following a four-month trial on terrorism charges. The cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, 72, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Reuters

Abu Bakar Bashir read a prayer in the courtroom before his trial on Thursday.

A district court delivered the verdict in Mr. Bashir’s trial as thousands of extra police officers and hundreds of soldiers fanned out across the capital on a busy workday. In recent days, the authorities had been alerted to vague threats of a bombing campaign to coincide with the ruling. Jeers from his supporters outside the courthouse could be heard when the chief judged announced the sentence Thursday afternoon, but no incidents were reported in the city.

Lawyers for the cleric immediately said they would appeal the ruling. After judges announced the sentence of 15 years — far shorter than the life sentence prosecutors had sought — Mr. Bashir delivered a short statement saying he rejected the judgment because it was not based on Islamic Law but on laws made by “infidels.” Guards could be seen ushering a smiling Mr. Bashir out of the courtroom.

The court sided with prosecutors who said that Mr. Bashir had helped mobilize and finance a militant group that set up an armed training camp in the province of Aceh, in northern Sumatra. The group, which called itself Al Qaeda of the Veranda of Mecca, was violently suppressed by the police last year.

Mr. Bashir, who denied any involvement with the group but defended its actions as legal under Islam, said during the trial that the Indonesian authorities fabricated the charges to please the United States.

The ruling puts an end for now to the activities of Mr. Bashir, whom the Indonesian authorities had often appeared reluctant to prosecute in the past for fear of antagonizing Islamic extremists. Mr. Bashir, a founder of the radical Jemaah Islamiyah movement, is believed to have lost much of his influence in recent years with Indonesia’s radical fringes.

But last year, police arrested Mr. Bashir after linking three members of his above-ground Islamic organization, Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid, which was established in 2008, to the group in Aceh, Al Qaeda of the Veranda of Mecca. Despite its name, the group is not believed to have had any ties with the main Qaeda network, the Indonesian authorities have said.

The short-lived group trained in Aceh’s remote, jungle-covered mountains, and stockpiled weapons, the authorities said. Last year, the police killed and arrested more than 120 suspects linked to the group, including Dulmatin, one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorism suspects. The authorities said that the group had been planning attacks against foreigners and had previously made plans to assassinate moderate Muslims, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Like Mr. Bashir himself, the group advocated replacing Indonesia’s democratic government with an Islamic state.

The Indonesian authorities’ case against Mr. Bashir this time had been considered stronger than in two previous ones, experts said. Mr. Bashir spent a couple of years in prison in the past decade on various charges. But the courts cleared him on the more serious terrorism-related charges, culminating in 2006 when the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s terrorism conviction.

The United States and Australia had long pressed the Indonesian authorities to take a harder line against Mr. Bashir. But Indonesian officials were believed reluctant to pursue Mr. Bashir aggressively for fear of angering his supporters. Even today, Mr. Yudhoyono’s government has been criticized by human rights activists for being soft on radical Muslim groups, particularly the Islamic Defenders Front, an organization that routinely carries out violent protests against Christians, other religious minorities and moderate Muslims.

In recent years, the United States has praised Indonesia’s anti-terrorism campaigns, which have drastically curtailed the activities of extremists, especially against Western targets. The last major attack took place in July 2009 with the nearly simultaneous suicide bombings of the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Hotels here, in which seven people and the two bombers were killed.

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