Indonesia Islamist uses trial to blast US influence


Indonesian Islamist cleric Abu Bakar Bashir used his final defence against charges of funding a militant group to denounce the United States for trying to stop Islamic preaching in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for the frail Bashir, 72, who delivered a speech in a piercing voice accusing the government of being under strong U.S. influence.

Bashir does not command widespread support in Indonesia, but the speech could inflame hardcore Islamists who have already vowed reprisal attacks following the U.S. killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Reuters reports.

Prosecutors said Bashir raised at least 350 million rupiah (25,000 pounds) from supporters and funnelled some to a militant training camp discovered last year in a remote mountainous part of Aceh, a province on the northern tip of Sumatra island that observes sharia law.
“Prosecutors accused me of being behind Aceh and being its biggest financier — it is an accusation and slander, with the interests of the pharaoh U.S. for me to be diminished from Indonesian society,” Bashir told the South Jakarta court.
“Because my preaching is considered dangerous, and with this lifetime of jail, the dream of the pharaoh U.S. and its allies will come true.”

Copies of the 55-minute speech were being sold at the court for 20,000 rupiah, with a form attached to join Bashir’s group, Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid, which has formally renounced violence but whose members have been involved in recent attacks including a suicide bombing at a police mosque on Java island.

Days prior to the trial, his followers invited people with text messages to attend “Bashir’s Islamic lecture” in court. Hundreds of men in skull caps and women in burqas arrived, filling the public gallery and spilling into the court car park to watch it on television.

With fists in the air, they shouted “Allahu akbar,” or God is greatest.”

Police, who have scored success in tackling terror groups in recent years, say militants at the Aceh camp were hatching several plots including an attack on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and hoped to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state.

As well as being the spiritual leader of JAT, Bashir was considered the spiritual leader of the outlawed and now-defunct Jemaah Islamiah, which police have blamed for several bombings including the country’s worst ever militant attack, the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

A verdict is not due until June.