Indonesian court begins hearing for jailed radical cleric

Abu Bakar Bashir was convicted for providing key support for the camp that brought together men from almost every known extremist group in Indonesiatry

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The jailed radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir appealed Tuesday to an Indonesia court to have his conviction for funding a terror training camp overturned, arguing that his support for the camp was an act of worship.

The 77-year-old leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network filed a judicial review of his 2011 conviction, when he was sentenced to 15 years in jail for setting up the camp in Aceh province. A higher court later cut the sentence to nine years.

Bashir read out his appeal before the District Court in the central Java town of Cilacap, the closest town to the high-security prison island of Nusakembangan, where he is serving his sentence.

He neither confirmed nor denied planning terror attacks, only saying the camp was meant to defend Islam and Muslims. He acknowledged that the military-style training camp in Aceh violated the law on firearms but that he was obeying God’s orders in supporting the camp.

“My deed of helping the physical training in Aceh was merely an act of worship,” said Bashir, who wore his traditional white turban and robe.

Bashir is considered the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda-linked militants blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

He was convicted for providing key support for the camp that brought together men from almost every known extremist group in the predominantly Muslim country. They were allegedly planning gun attacks on foreigners in the capital, Jakarta, and the assassinations of moderate leaders, including former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

His chief lawyer, Muhammad Mahendradatta, said Bashir was simply raising funds for religious use, but never meant it to go to support a camp.

A judicial panel led by Nyoto Hindaryanto decided to resume the next hearing on Jan. 26 for the state prosecutor’s response and to hear witnesses.

Hundreds of his supporters, mostly wearing white caps, gathered outside the court building as the firebrand cleric arrived in an armored car, and was escorted directly to the rear entrance of the building, giving him no opportunity to speak to reporters or supporters.

They shouted “Allah Akbar,” or God is great, “Bashir is not a terrorist” and “Free Bashir,” and unfurled a banner demanding his release.

Those who could not enter the court room watched the hearing from screen set up in front of the court building, where all attendants have to pass through metal detectors.

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