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Bashir Acquitted of Treason Charges

An appeals court in the Indonesian capital has acquitted of treason charges the Muslim cleric accused of leading a regional terrorist organization. Abu Bakar Bashir was convicted in September of inciting rebellion against the government and sentenced to four years in prison. He has maintained his innocence, saying that he was merely campaigning to implement Islamic Sharia law in Indonesia.

On Monday, an appeals court agreed, but it upheld the Muslim cleric's conviction and three year sentence for forgery and immigration offenses.

Bashir is accused of being the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, a regional terrorist group with strong links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network. But at his original trial in September, the court cleared him of charges related to JI.

Sidney Jones is the head of the International Crisis Group in Jakarta and studies Islamic militancy in Southeast Asia. She says the appeals court decision sends a poor symbolic message - and shows that Indonesian courts may not be willing to make a case against JI. "It was clear, even from the evidence presented at his original trial, that he was the head of Jemaah Islamiyah" she says. "It [the verdict] raises questions again about the whole validity of the government's case against Jemaah Islamiyah."

Bashir is the founder of an Islamic boarding school notorious for turning out terrorists, including at least five of those found guilty of involvement in last year's deadly bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Bashir has been in prison since September but has continued his militant comments from behind bars. In an essay circulated at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan last week, Bashir called on Muslims to rise up and oppose what he described as the Zionist Jews and the extremist Christians from America.

Analysts warn that JI still has the power to carry out large attacks in Southeast Asia despite the arrest of hundreds of suspected members around the region.