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Indonesia Sentences Alleged JI Leader for Hiding Bali Bomber - 2004-02-25

A court in Indonesia has sentenced an alleged leader of one of Southeast Asia's most dangerous terrorist groups to three-and-a-half years in prison for hiding a fugitive member of the group that carried out the October 2002 Bali bombing.

Abu Rusdan was found guilty of hiding Mukhlas, one of the key people responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing. He was given a three-and-a-half year sentence - significantly shorter than the nine-year-term requested by prosecutors.

Supporters of Abu Rusdan shouted "Allah u Akbar" - God is great - as the sentence was passed in a south Jakarta court Wednesday afternoon.

Terrorism experts allege Abu Rusdan, also known as Thoriquddin, took over the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, in 2002. He denies the accusation and has never been formally charged with leadership of JI. His lawyers say they will appeal Wednesday's sentence.

His alleged predecessor as leader of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir, is currently serving a three-year sentence after being convicted of sedition.

The man Abu Rusdan protected, Mukhlas, has been condemned to death for his role in the Bali bombing, which killed 202 people, most of them young Western tourists.

The conviction of Abu Rusdan is the latest blow against alleged members of JI. More than 30 men have been convicted of involvement with the Bali bombing, and others have been arrested elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

One of the group's most important commanders, an Indonesian citizen named Hambali, is in US custody at an undisclosed location. Indonesian authorities said Wednesday they had received useful answers to questions they had put to Hambali through his American interrogators. They said the answers had helped define the extent of the JI network and some of its plans.

U.S. officials say they expect to hand over Hambali to Indonesia, where he is wanted for a involvement in a number of terrorist attacks, but Washington has declined to say when any handover might take place.