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Militant Indonesian Cleric Condemns Terrorist Attacks

  • Tim Johnston

An extremist Islamic preacher being tried in Indonesia on charges of leading one of Southeast Asia's most violent terrorist groups has used his defense statement to condemn attacks linked to the group. Abu Bakar Bashir is accused of involvement in two bloody bomb attacks in Indonesia.

Prosecutors say Abu Bakar Bashir was the leader of the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. They say he played a key role in inspiring and organizing the August 2003 bombing of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, and the October 2002 tourist nightclub bombing on the island of Bali. Those two attacks killed a total of 214 people.

But in court Tuesday, Bashir took the stand in his own defense and said the Marriott attack was wrong. In the past he has made little secret of his belief that Muslims should stand up and fight what he sees as the West's anti-Islamic policies. But on Tuesday he said that such "jihad," or armed struggle, should only be waged in "conflict areas" such as Afghanistan.

The head of Bashir's legal team, Wirawan Adnan, says the prosecution does not have the evidence to prove its case, but he says the court is under heavy pressure to keep his client locked up.

"I'm confident that the court does not have anything on him that could lead to the understanding that he incited the bombing, but I'm not that confident that the court have the courage to do what's right,"said Mr. Adnan.

Bashir, the 66-year-old head of an Islamic boarding school, has always denied any connection with terrorism. But western analysts and diplomats say they have little doubt that he was heavily involved with Jemaah Islamiyah, a group dedicated to setting up an Islamic "super state" across much of Southeast Asia.

The group, also known by the initials JI, has carried out bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines, and members of the group have been arrested in Singapore and Malaysia for allegedly planning attacks in those countries.

One Indonesian court has already ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove Bashir was the JI leader, and Indonesian legal experts say a conviction is far from assured in the current trial.

They say the legal case against Bashir was weak in the first place, and has been further weakened by witnesses who have withdrawn their participation, contradicted their statements, or refused to give evidence.

The trial is close to its finish, and a verdict is expected from the five-judge panel in the next three weeks.

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