Indonesia beefs up security as Islamist cleric faces verdict

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 15, 2011 11:48 PM
Indonesia beefs up security as Islamist cleric faces verdict

By Olivia Rondonuwu

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir faces a court verdict Thursday that could see him jailed for life for funding a group that aimed to kill the country's president.

Jailing Bashir would be an important step in the Indonesian government's efforts to weaken terror groups, but may not reduce the threat of attacks in the most populous Muslim country as others seek to push an Islamist agenda.

Bashir does not command widespread support in Indonesia, but a guilty verdict could inflame hardcore Islamists, some of whom have vowed reprisals after the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden.

Underlining that risk, an anonymous text message circulating through the capital this week warned of 36 bombs exploding in across the country the moment the judge in the south Jakarta court announces a verdict for Bashir.

"Give me strength to fight against the infidels, Islam's enemies," said Bashir in a prayer at the court to hundreds of his followers, many of whom traveled from other cities for the conclusion of a long trial.

Police have stepped up security, with 2,900 officers at the court alone, where phone lines were scrambled and balaclava-wearing snipers took positions on surrounding buildings.

The frail 72-year old cleric is being tried on charges of supporting a paramilitary group that aimed to destabilize Southeast Asia's largest economy, and turn the officially pluralist and mostly moderate Muslim country into a state with Islamic law.

Indonesia has seen success in recent years in tackling militant groups, and a period of political stability and strong economic growth has turned it into an emerging market favorite among investors, though security risks remain.

Militants linked by police to Bashir's group Jema'ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) have been involved in recent shootouts with police, and a suicide bombing at a police mosque in Java, leading analysts to conclude they are changing tactics from focusing on Western targets to attacking local institutions.

Police say Bashir was also the spiritual leader of regional group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed over 200 people.

This is the third attempt for Indonesian law enforcers to try the white-bearded cleric on terror charges. Previous trials only kept him briefly behind bars for other crimes such as immigration offences.

Prosecutors want life in jail for Bashir, though the maximum penalty for the charges is death.

The cleric denied his involvement in the training camp based in Aceh province, which is governed by Islamic law.

"We are here to pray for the judges and prosecutors...if there is no repentance from them, may God give them bitter pain on earth and in the afterlife," said one of Bashir's supporters at the court, wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.

(Additional reporting by Lenita Sulthani; Writing by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)