Indonesian Court Jails Radical Cleric over ‘Funding Terrorist Group’

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An Indonesian court on Thursday jailed radical Islamist cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for 15 years for funding a terrorist group that was planning attacks against Westerners and political leaders.

The 72-year-old preacher showed little emotion as Judge Herri Swantoro read out the guilty verdict and sentence at the end of a four-month trial in the South Jakarta district court.

"Abu Bakar Bashir has been proven guilty of planning and misleading other people to fund terror activities ... and is sentenced to 15 years in jail," the judge said, triggering a gasp from the cleric's supporters in the court.

Draped in his customary white robes and skull-cap, the man seen as the spiritual leader of regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah immediately promised to appeal the sentence, which he called the work of the devil.

"This is haram (forbidden in Islam). I reject this because it is cruel and disregards Islamic sharia law. This ruling is by the friends of the devil and it is haram for me to accept it," he said in response to the judge.

About 500 radicals erupted into shouts of "Allahu akbar" (God is great) outside the court as the verdict was read. Some 3,000 police backed by armored vehicles and snipers were on hand in the event of violence.

"This trial was a joke. They haven't looked for the truth, they only want to serve the interests of the current political power," said a spokesman for Bashir's radical organization, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT).

Prosecutors had demanded a 20-year life sentence for Bashir, who was found guilty of channeling about $50,000 to a terrorist cell that was conducting military-style training in Aceh province in 2009.

Police say the so-called al-Qaida in Aceh group, which was discovered in February last year, was planning assassinations and Mumbai-style attacks by highly trained suicide gunmen.

Bashir had been facing the death penalty for providing illegal weapons to the group but authorities dropped those charges early in the proceedings. The court also acquitted him of a charge of possessing illegal weapons.

He rejects all allegations of materially supporting terrorists, while publicly exhorting his followers to wage jihad or "holy war" against the West and Indonesia's form of secular, democratic government.

For decades the frail but pugnacious preacher has agitated in mosques, Islamic schools and through radical groups such as JAT, which he established in 2008, for the creation of an Islamic state under strict sharia law.

Several JAT members are under arrest and have implicated Bashir in the Aceh cell, which was operationally led by Dulmatin, one of Southeast Asia's most wanted men until he was killed in a police raid in March last year.

Bashir told reporters before the sentencing session began that he was being framed by Australia and the United States, a claim he has repeated throughout his trial.

"They want me to disappear from Indonesia... The benefit to them? To kill Islam, to kill defenders of Islam, arrested and killed without reason," he said.

Police have tightened security at shopping centers across the sprawling city and deployed extra personnel following threats of bomb attacks in the event of Bashir's conviction.

Indonesia has been rocked by a series of attacks by Jemaah Islamiyah and its offshoots, including bombings of tourist spots on Bali, the Australian embassy and luxury Jakarta hotels.

Bashir served almost 26 months behind bars over the 2002 Bali bombings but his conviction was overturned after his release in 2006.

Prosecutors have also unsuccessfully charged him with involvement in church bombings in 2000 and an attack on the Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003.

Analysts said Bashir's jailing would not reduce the militant threat in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country and a key U.S. ally in Southeast Asia.

"A new leader will try to prove he's worthy by launching a big attack of some sort," said University of Indonesia expert Andi Widjajanto.

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