May 9, 2011 / 12:04 PM / 8 years ago

Indonesia seeks life in jail for Islamist cleric Bashir

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian state prosecutors told a Jakarta court on Monday they were seeking a sentence of life in prison for 72-year-old cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, spiritual leader of Islamist militants in Southeast Asia, for helping finance a “terrorist training camp.”

Scores of his supporters, some packed into the courtroom and others watching live on a screen outside, shouted in dismay at what they said was the severity of the proposed sentence, shook their fists and chanted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is greatest.”

Under Indonesian law the prosecutor was entitled to ask for death penalty, but chose not to.

Although Bashir does not command wide support in Indonesia, the harshness of the proposed sentence is likely to further inflame anger among hardcore Islamists already enraged by the killing last week of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

“We wish judges to decide that Abu Bakar Bashir has been proven guilty of planning and or influencing others to provide money for an act that he would suspect would be used partly or fully for terrorism,” said prosecutor Andi Muhammad Taufik.

A verdict is not due for several weeks, after Bashir has mounted his defence against the charges.

“Evil!” shouted a man wearing a Middle-east style kaffiyeh scarf outside the heavily guarded courtroom in south Jakarta. Another yelled: “The judges said they are Muslims but they have been using the law of the infidels.”

SPIRITUAL GUIDE AND MORE?

Bashir is the spiritual leader of outlawed and now-defunct Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which police have blamed for several bombings and killings including the country’s worst ever militant attacks, the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

He is also the spiritual leader and former head of Islamist preaching group Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), whose members have been linked to recent bombings in Indonesia.

While he is clearly regarded as a spiritual figurehead by many militants, the authorities have so far never been able to prove that he was guilty of aiding militant attacks.

The Islamists rallying at the court in support of Bashir were also furious about bin Laden’s death.

“Osama bin Laden will never die,” shouted a man in a Muslim skullcap outside he court. “And even if he did, it was because of disease, not because he was shot by American soldiers.”

Journalists who spoke to Bashir in his holding cell ahead of the hearing asked him if he knew bin Laden. He shook his head and said “No,” but added: “He is a great Muslim fighter... He was destroyed by infidels and a big gift from God awaits him.”

Bashir also condemned U.S. President Barack Obama: “If Obama does not repent and convert to Islam, when he dies he will be a dog in hell. Tell him to repent.”

Prosecutors said Bashir raised at least 350 million rupiah ($41,000) 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 is staunchly Muslim and observes sharia law.

Police say militants at the camp were hatching several plots including a plan to assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and hoped to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state. The discovery of the camp was a surprise for the security forces who had thought they were winning the battle against militants.

This is the third trial in eight years for Bashir, some of whose followers and sympathisers have been convicted of terrorist offences in the past. Bashir has been jailed before, but not on terror charges.

Additonal reporting by Andrew Marshall; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Daniel Magnowski

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