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Indonesia Terror Trial Witnesses Fail to Implicate Suspected Cleric

  • Tim Johnston

In Indonesia, the prosecution case against alleged terror leader Abu Bakar Bashir has suffered another setback. A series of witnesses, including a number of convicted terrorists, have denied that the Muslim cleric inspired or knew anything about bombings that killed more than 200 people.

Abu Bakar Bashir is on trial for his life, accused of inspiring the men who carried out the car bombing of a Bali tourist nightspot two-years ago and last year's bombing of the American-run Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. More than 200 people died in the blasts.

Prosecutors say Bashir is the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group that hopes to establish an Islamic superstate across much of Southeast Asia. Intelligence experts say the group has ties to the al Qaida network, and that Osama bin Laden's command to attack Western targets also played a part in inspiring the Indonesian attacks.

But the 65-year-old teacher denies having any role in the attacks, and witnesses called by the prosecution have done little to strengthen the case against him.

Thursday, it was the turn of Rusman Gunawan, the younger brother of Hambali. President Bush once described Hambali as "one of the world's most lethal terrorists."

Gunawan, who has been convicted of involvement in the Marriott bombing, testified that he met Bashir five years ago at a religious meeting. But he said the cleric's speech had been limited to encouragement of traditional aspects of Islam such as prayer and fasting, rather than promoting militancy.

Bashir has never made a secret of his hatred of the West, and many of those already convicted of the Bali and Marriott bombings are graduates of the Islamic boarding school he founded and ran.

But analysts say, prosecutors are going to have a hard time proving a direct link between the cleric and the bombings. That difficulty was reflected when none of the six witnesses implicated Bashir directly in the attacks.

The trial is expected to last at least four more months.

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