Indonesia – The verdict in the Indonesia terrorism trial of radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is being read at a Jakarta court Thursday amid high security.
Bashir, 72, is accused of helping to organise and fund a jihadi training camp in westernmost Aceh province that brought together men from almost every known Indonesian extremist group.
Several hundred Bashir supporters greeted him with chants of “God is Great” as he arrived at the court in south Jakarta under a heavy security escort including two armored vehicles. Some held up small banners emblazoned with “Don’t play around, free Abu Bakar Bashir.”
If found guilty, he faces up to life in prison, which is also the sentence demanded by prosecutors.
Bashir denies involvement with the training camp but repeatedly defends it as legal under Islam. Before entering the court he told reporters the trial is an attempt by the US and Australia “to eliminate me from Indonesia.”
Nearly 3,200 police and soldiers, including snipers, have been deployed to secure the court and surrounding area.
Threats of a bombing campaign in 36 locations across Indonesia to coincide with the verdict have been spread by Twitter and text messages.
“We came here to show our support and solidarity, we’ve no intention to do anything against the law. I believe Bashir just wants to fight for the truth,” said Rachim, 24, a supporter from Bashir’s hometown Solo, where the cleric also has an Islamic school.
The Aceh camp was raided in February last year resulting in the arrests of more than 120 suspected terrorists over several months. They allegedly planned attacks on foreigners and assassinations of moderate Muslim leaders such as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Some terrorism experts say the camp’s organisers envisaged it as a vehicle for radicalising the Acehnese people and as the nucleus of a future Islamic state. Despite the camp’s failure, it may have provided lessons that will help future attempts to bring extremist groups together under one umbrella.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, was thrust into the front lines of the battle against terrorism by the 2002 bombings on the tourist island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.
It’s not the first time Bashir has faced terrorism charges or spent time in detention.
He 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 2 1/2 years, this time for inciting the Bali blasts, a charge that was overturned on appeal. He was freed in 2006.-By Ali Kotarumalos