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Bashir Says Charges Against Him Are Laughable

  • Tim Johnston

In Indonesia, a militant Islamic cleric charged with inspiring a series of terrorist attacks has had a chance to defend himself. Abu Bakar Bashir could face a firing squad if he is convicted, but in court on Thursday he devoted most of his time to attacking the policies of the United States and its allies.

Abu Bakar Bashir is accused of being the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the regional militant group behind both the nightclub bombing on the island of Bali two years ago and last year's attack on the American run J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta.

More than 200 people, most of them Westerners, died in the attacks.

Bashir, who ran an Islamic boarding school in central Java until his arrest two years ago, is accused of inspiring the two attacks. He also is accused of attending the graduation ceremony of a group of militants in a camp in the southern Philippines.

Although Bashir has made little secret of his hatred of the West, he has denied any involvement in terrorism. In his 20-minute speech to the court on Thursday, Bashir dismissed the charges as laughable, and turned his defense into an indictment of Western policies in the Islamic world.

Cheered on by a group of some 150 supporters, he says that his trial is part of a conspiracy against Muslims orchestrated by President Bush and his allies, whom he repeatedly calls "the enemies of God."

Bashir said the United States was waging a war on Muslims under cover of the fight against terrorism. Speaking before he went into court, he said he hoped Bush's re-election would prove to be a disaster for the United States.

Officials in Indonesia, Australia and the United States, as well as some Southeast Asia nations, say J.I. is responsible for several attacks in Indonesia and has links to the al Qaida terror network. They consider Bashir to be J.I.'s spiritual leader and say he has confirmed ties to a man known as Hambali, who is believed to be the group's operations leader. Hambali is now in U.S. custody.

Analysts say they have little doubt that Bashir had some involvement with the militant movement, pointing out that many of those already convicted of the attacks were former students at his school. However, the analysts say the prosecution might have a tough job proving the link in court.

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