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MILITANT CLERIC BASHIR JAILED FOR 15 YEARS IN INDONESIA


JAKARTA, Indonesia - Abu Bakar Bashir, the controversial Indonesian cleric, has been jailed for 15 years on charges he helped plan and fund a camp of fighters in the western Aceh province which aimed to kill the country's president. Indonesia has been put on alert, amid fears that Bashir supporters might indulge in acts of revenge.
Police have stepped up security, with 2,900 officers at the court alone, where phone lines were scrambled and balaclava-wearing snipers took positions on surrounding buildings. Prosecutors had demanded a life sentence for Bashir.
  • Earlier, several hundred Bashir supporters greeted him with chants of "God is great" as he arrived at the court in the morning in south Jakarta under a heavy security escort including two armoured vehicles. Some held up small banners emblazoned with "don't play around, free Abu Bakar Bashir".
  • Bashir, 72, is accused of helping to organise and fund a camp of fighters in the western Aceh province. The Aceh camp was raided in February last year, resulting in the arrests of more than 120 people over several months.
  • They allegedly planned attacks on foreigners and assassinations of moderate Muslim leaders, including Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president.
  • Bashir denies involvement with the training camp but repeatedly defends it as legal under Islam. Before entering the court he told reporters that the trial was an attempt by the US and Australia "to eliminate me from Indonesia".
  • "Give me strength to fight against the infidels, Islam's enemies," Bashir said in a prayer at the court to hundreds of his followers, many of whom travelled from other cities for the conclusion of a long trial.
  • Prosecutors have pressed for life sentence for the cleric, though the maximum penalty for the charges is death. It is not the first time Bashir has faced terrorism charges or spent time in detention.
Bashir was arrested almost immediately after the Bali bombings, but prosecutors were unable to prove a string of terrorism-related allegations and reduced his four-year prison sentence to 18 months for immigration violations.
Soon after his release, he was re-arrested and sentenced to two and a half years, this time for inciting the Bali blasts, a sentence that was overturned on appeal. He was freed in 2006.
  • The cleric was the spiritual leader of regional group Jemaah Islamiah, blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed over 200 people, mainly foreign tourists.
  • Bashir does not command widespread support in Indonesia, but a guilty verdict could inflame extremists, some of whom have vowed reprisals after last month's killing of Osama bin Laden by the US forces.
  • Underlining that risk, an anonymous text message circulating through the capital this week warned of 36 bombs exploding across the country the moment the judge announces a verdict for Bashir.
Police have linked Bashir's group Jema'ah Ansharut Tauhid to many incidents of shootouts and a suicide bombing.
Indonesia has seen success in recent years in tackling extremist groups, and a period of political stability and strong economic growth has turned it into an emerging market favourite among investors.
Source: Agencies
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