Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir faces life in jail for terrorist camp

Islamists' spiritial leader 'helped finance' group plotting to assassinate Indonesia's president, prosecutors tell court in Jakarta.

Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir smiles as he talks to reporters from his cell before his trial in Jakarta.
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JAKARTA // Indonesian state prosecutors told a Jakarta court yesterday they were seeking a life sentence for the 72-year-old cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of Islamist militants in South East Asia, for helping finance a "terrorist training camp".

Scores of his supporters, some packed into the courtroom and others watching live on a screen outside, shouted in dismay at what they said was the severity of the proposed sentence, shook their fists and chanted "Allahu Akbar" or "God is greatest".

Under Indonesian law the prosecutor was entitled to ask for the death penalty, but chose not to.

Although Mr Bashir does not command wide support in Indonesia, the harshness of the proposed sentence is likely to further inflame anger among some Islamists already enraged by the killing last week of the al Qa'eda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The prosecutor, Andi Muhammad Taufik, said: "We wish judges to decide that Abu Bakar Bashir has been proven guilty of planning and or influencing others to provide money for an act that he would suspect would be used partly or fully for terrorism."

A verdict is not due for several weeks, after Mr Bashir has mounted his defence against the charges.

"Evil!" shouted a man outside the heavily guarded courtroom in south Jakarta. Another yelled: "The judges said they are Muslims but they have been using the law of the infidels."

Mr Bashir is the spiritual leader of the outlawed and now-defunct Jemaah Islamiah, which police have blamed for several bombings and killings, including the country's worst militant attacks, the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

He is also the spiritual leader and former head of the Islamist preaching group Jema'ah Ansharut Tauhid, whose members have been linked to recent bombings in Indonesia.

While he is clearly regarded as a spiritual figurehead by many militants, the authorities have so far never been able to prove that he was guilty of aiding militant attacks.

Prosecutors said Mr Bashir raised at least 350 million rupiah (Dh150,000) from supporters and funnelled some to a militant training camp discovered last year in a remote mountainous part of Aceh, a province on the northern tip of Sumatra island that is staunchly Muslim and observes Sharia.

Police say militants at the camp were hatching several plots including a plan to assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and hoped to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state. The discovery of the camp was a surprise for the security forces, who had thought they were winning the battle against militants.

This is the third trial in eight years for Mr Bashir, some of whose followers and sympathisers have been convicted of terrorist offences in the past. Mr Bashir has been jailed before, but not on terrorist charges.