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Indonesian Court Rejects Freeing Alleged Terror Leader Bashir - 2004-09-06

An Indonesian court has rejected a motion to free a Muslim cleric accused of heading the Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah. The decision clears the way for Abu Bakar Bashir to be tried under tough new anti-terror laws.

The Jakarta court ruled that the arrest of Abu Bakar Bashir was legal and consequently his trial on terrorism charges should proceed. Under new, anti-terrorism laws, he could face the death penalty.

One of Mr. Bashir's lawyers, Mahendradatta reacted saying the ruling was politically motivated.

"The court is still influenced by the international opinion and also government opinion," he said. "And they, I mean the court, cannot make a ruling independently."

A spokesman for the Indonesian government contacted by VOA declined to comment on the case, saying it was too early. Bashir is a Muslim preacher and educator who advocates creating a pan-Islamic state in parts of Southeast Asia. He has been accused of being the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. The group is believed responsible for the terrorist bombings on Bali Island two years ago and at Jakarta's Marriott hotel last year, which killed hundreds of people.

The cleric has denied the charges. He was arrested following the Bali attacks, but was only convicted of minor immigration offenses as judicial officials found there was insufficient evidence at that time to link him to terrorism.

The continuing investigation has produced new information used to re-arrest Bashir in April as he left prison for the immigration offense.

After the Bali attacks, the Indonesian government passed tough anti-terrorism laws. But the Supreme Court has ruled the 65-year-old Bashir cannot be tried on them for the Bali attack - since it occurred before the laws were enacted. Defense lawyers have been seeking Bashir's release on those grounds.

But the Jakarta court said that the current detention was based on other laws, indicating that Bashir would be tried for involvement in the Marriott hotel attack, in which 12 people were killed.

Mr. Mahendradatta says defense lawyers plan to make other motions for Bashir's release but are also preparing for an eventual trial.

"We demand the prosecutors prove that he has a relationship with the bombing in the south," he said. "We still have reasonable doubt to put Mr. Abu Bakar al-Bashir as a person who can be responsible to [for] the Marriott bombing."

He also says the defense will ask the prosecution to prove Bashir heads Jemaah Islamiyah. Prosecutors say several senior members of the group have identified Bashir as the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah.