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Bashir Sentenced to 30 Months in Jail for Role in Bali Bombings

A Jakarta court has sentenced Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir to 30 months in prison for complicity in the 2002 Bali bombings but dropped all charges against him related to a 2003 hotel bombing.

Dozens of supporters of the 66-year-old Muslim cleric shouted "God is great" while Abu Bakar Bashir says the court's ruling is immoral. He blames the verdict on the United States, but urges his supporters to refrain from using violence.

The five judges in his trial ruled Thursday that the Muslim cleric was not directly involved in carrying out the Bali bombings but had given approval for the attack.

At least 202 people, most of them foreign tourists, were killed in Bali.

Bashir, who has been accused of leading the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, was sentenced to 30 months in prison Thursday, minus 11 months he spent jailed waiting for trial. The judges, however, ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict Bashir of being involved in the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

The sentence, which fell far short of the eight years demanded by the prosecution, drew criticism from the United States.

"We respect the independence of Indonesia's judiciary and welcome the conviction of this known terrorist leader," said Max Kwak, the U.S. embassy spokesman in Jakarta. "We respect the independence and judgment of the Indonesian courts but given the gravity of the charges on which he was convicted we're disappointed at the length of the sentence."

Australia, which lost 88 citizens in the Bali bombing, said it would like to see Bashir serve a longer sentence and will raise the question of his punishment with the Indonesian authorities.

But Sidney Jones, from the International Crisis Group, says the prosecution's case was weak, which led to the short sentence. She says the sentence should not be seen as a sign that Indonesia is weak on terrorism.

"I don't think that this particular case should be seen in any way as a test of the Indonesian government's commitment to fight terrorism," said Ms. Jones. "I think on other issues and with other individuals, they're doing a good job."

Indonesia prosecuted more than 30 people for their involvement in the Bali bombing, and sentenced three to death.

Bashir was first arrested shortly after the Bali bombings but prosecutors failed to prove he was a terrorist and the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been blamed for a string of deadly bombings across Southeast Asia.

Instead, Bashir was convicted of immigration violations. After serving 18 months, he was re-arrested last April on new terrorism charges.

Bashir's lawyers say they will appeal the verdict.