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Indonesian Prosecutors Charge Islamic Cleric Bashir With Treason - 2003-04-14


Indonesian prosecutors have charged an Islamic cleric with treason for his alleged role in a radical movement that seeks to overthrow the government. Abu Bakar Bashir is believed to be the leader of a terror network linked to al-Qaida.

Indonesian prosecutors filed an indictment in a Jakarta court charging that Abu Bakar Bashir sought to establish an Islamic state by overthrowing the Indonesian government.

The 25-page indictment also names Mr. Bashir as the "emir" or spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a designated Southeast Asian terrorist organization. Police have linked the group to the devastating October bomb attack on the island of Bali that killed more than 200 people. Many of the dead were foreign tourists.

Nearly three-dozen suspects have been arrested in connection with the Bali bombing, but Mr. Bashir has not been implicated in that attack. Instead, he is charged with involvement in the Christmas Eve bombings in 2000. At least 19 people died when blasts rocked a handful of churches across Indonesia. He has also been accused of conspiring to commit foiled terrorist attacks in Singapore.

Prior to his arrest, Mr. Bashir was running an Islamic school in the Javanese city of Solo. He has consistently denied having anything to do with terrorism. But he is an outspoken critic of U-S government policies, including the war on terror.

A small, but violent, protest carried out by Mr. Bashir's students erupted when he was taken into police custody in October.

But there has been little reaction in his support since then, and according to one analyst, little more is likely. Rizal Mallarengeng, with the Jakarta-based policy forum, the Freedom Institute, said "Bashir is not the leader of the people. He is the leader of a very small sect of the fundamentalist Muslims. It is not that Bashir is a great leader of the country, it is not true."

Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country. Most of its 220 million people practice a very moderate form of Islam.

But terrorism is a concern. The U.S. and Australian governments have renewed their travel warnings for Indonesia, asking their citizens living in the country to consider leaving.