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Muslim Cleric Could Face Treason Charges in Indonesia - 2003-01-21

Indonesian authorities say that the alleged leader of a regional terrorist group is likely to be charged with treason for a series of bomb attacks two years ago. There may also be a connection between Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir and the devastating bomb attack on the resort of island of Bali in October. Indonesian police said Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is likely to face treason charges for his alleged leading role in planning a series of bomb attacks on churches on Christmas Eve in 2000.

The attacks have been blamed on Islamic extremists of Jemaah Islamiyah. Authorities say Mr. Bahsir is the spiritual leader of JI, which is believed to be the Southeast Asian connection to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Neighboring Singapore and Malaysia said JI wants to create instability in order to establish an Islamic super-state comprising Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the southern Philippines.

Police said JI was behind October's deadly bombing in Bali that killed nearly 200 people, mostly Western tourists. But they have not established any direct links between Mr. Bashir and the Bali attack.

Still investigators said many of the 17 men arrested for the Bali bombing have connections with Mr. Bashir. Some are known to have studied under him, and others knew him when he was in exile in Malaysia in the 1980s and 90s.

Mr. Bashir is also accused of planning to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri. He denies any connection with JI or terrorism.

Mr. Bashir has been held under Indonesia's new anti-terrorism law since late October, but police only handed over his dossier to prosecutors on Tuesday. If the prosecution goes ahead, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. A date for his trial has not yet been set.