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Indonesian Cleric Sentenced to 15 Years in Terror Trial

Radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, center, leaves the court after the judges delivered his sentence during his trial at a district court In Jakarta, Indonesia, June 16, 2011

Radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in jail on Thursday for terrorism, marking the latest development in the country’s fight against Islamic radicalism.

Supporters of famed firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir cried out as judges sentenced him to 15 years in prison for setting up and financing a militant training camp that was allegedly preparing for targeted terrorist attacks.

Bashir opposed the sentence to shouts of "Allah akbar", or "God is great", from the hundreds of people packed in and around the courthouse. Defense lawyer Adnan Wirawan says they will appeal the verdict.

“We believe that this is absurd, we believe that it’s unreasonable," said Wirawan. "He’s being punished because he is the leader of JAT.”

Wirawan was referring to Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, the above-ground organization Bashir established in 2008 and which has recently been linked to a series of terror plots.

The verdict is generally seen as adding a heavy blow to extremist networks already crippled by a series of police dragnets since the training camp tied to Bashir was uncovered in February 2010.

Sidney Jones, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, says the sentence is evidence of the government’s commitment to punish those who carry out violence. But she also believes the 72-year-old cleric has lost some of his influence.

“I’m not sure his conviction and sentencing will have any major impact on the jihadi movement more generally because I think the groups that are emerging are already acting on their own initiative without needing direction from him,” said Jones.

Around 3,000 police guarded the South Jakarta courthouse in anticipation of a backlash from his followers. The response, however, was fairly muted. Looks of anguish crossed many faces as Bashir read out an opening prayer in which he warned authorities that they had made an enemy of Islam.

Jones says police will need to operate with caution since they could face the brunt of the blame for arresting Bashir.

The sentence ends a six-month trial that saw the aging but vocal Bashir take to the stand with his signature invective. Considered the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terror networked linked to al-Qaeda, Bashir’s sermons have allegedly inspired many of his followers to action.

Several of the men accused for carrying out the 2002 bombing in Bali that killed 202 people were students of the Islamic boarding school he founded.

The trial was the third Bashir has faced over the past three decades and analysts say it was important that the charges stick. He was found guilty of conspiracy for the 2002 Bali bombing but released from his two and half year sentence early.