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Indonesian Prosecutors Seek 15 Years For Bashir


Indonesian Prosecutors Seek 15 Years For Bashir

By Richard S. Ehrlich

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Prosecutors demanded on Tuesday (Aug. 12) a 15-year jail sentence for a Muslim extremist leader allegedly linked to al Qaeda, if he is found guilty of involvement in deadly church bombings and an attempted assassination.

Abu Bakar Bashir denied the charges. He instead told his followers they must fight to impose Islamic laws dating back 1,300 years ago and not worry about being called "terrorists."

"I say do not be afraid of being labeled as trying to overthrow (the government) or as terrorists when you are carrying out Islamic sharia law in full," Mr. Bashir warned in a speech on Sunday (Aug. 10), sent from his Jakarta prison cell where he is being held while on trial.

His speech was read out to 3,000 cheering followers at the start of a Mujahideen Council of Indonesia (MMI) meeting in Solo, in central Java island.

Mr. Bashir's base is in Solo where he headed an Islamic school allegedly attended by some of the suspects involved in last October's Bali bombing which killed 202 people.

Mr. Bashir was accused of teaching and preaching with the alleged commander of the Bali bomb plot, Mukhlas, also known as Ali Ghufron, who is currently facing trial in Bali.

Mr. Bashir was also alleged to have known Amrozi bin Nurhasyim who was convicted on Aug. 7 and sentenced to death by firing squad for buying the van and explosives used in the Bali bombing.

Three-three other suspected Jemaah Islamiyah members are awaiting trial for involvement in the Bali bombing.

Mr. Bashir's MMI speech came five days after a Muslim fanatic, allegedly backed by al Qaeda, blew himself up in a car bomb at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, killing 11 people and injuring 150.

Mr. Bashir has not been charged with involvement in the Marriott Hotel bombing or the Bali blast, but he has been accused of leading the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, linked to both explosions.

A fiery orator, Mr. Bashir has denied the accusation and claimed the U.S. CIA created Jemaah Islamiyah to persecute Muslims.

"The Jemaah Islamiyah organization, designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, is an extremist group known to have cells operating in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, and is known to have connections with al Qaeda," the U.S. State Department said on Friday (Aug. 8).

"I affirm that this group [Jemaah Islamiyah] is behind the Marriott bombing, based on intelligence reports following the arrest [in July] of nine suspects who are also JI members," Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil told reporters.

"There are many more Jemaah Islamiyah members on the loose in Indonesia," Mr. Matori said on Friday (Aug. 8). "Because of this, I am sure that JI is behind all of this."

The fugitives possess deadly skills, including bomb-making, he added.

"Each one of them has special abilities received from training in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Mr. Matori said.

Hours before the Aug. 5 explosion in front of the JW Marriott Hotel, the white-bearded Mr. Bashir testified in a Jakarta court that Islamic sharia law could justify the church bombings scattered across Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000, which killed 19 people.

"If those examples had reasons which were not based on sharia law, it is obviously wrong. But if there is a sharia reason -- then from the religious point of view it is right, but not from the national law's point of view," Mr. Bashir told the court.

The most wanted fugitive in Asia, suspected Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali -- whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin -- reportedly attended Mr. Bashir's Islamic sermons in Solo, as did alleged Bali bomber Imam Samudra.

"A lot of information, and the progress of our intelligence work, confirm that Hambali is Abu Bakar Bashir's vice chairman," Defense Minister Matori told reporters in October 2002.

"It is illogical if Abu Bakar Bashir says that he doesn't know about the [Christmas] bombings in Indonesia," Mr. Matori added.

Mr. Bashir and Mr. Hambali are suspected of being the masterminds behind Jemaah Islamiyah.

Mr. Hambali meanwhile was also suspected of orchestrating a meeting of al Qaeda members in January 2000 in Malaysia with two of the men who hijacked planes in the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on America which killed about 3,000 people.

Investigators on Tuesday (Aug. 12) meanwhile searched for evidence linking the Bali bombing and the Marriott Hotel attack, based on possible similarities in the mixture of explosives, detonation devices and the scraping off of the bomb-packed vehicles' identification numbers.

Police identified Asmar Latin Sani, 28, from Indonesia's Sumatra island as the driver of the Toyota mini-van which exploded at the Marriott Hotel, after finding his scarred, severed head which had been hurled by the blast onto the hotel's fifth floor.

Jemaah Islamiyah began in the mid-1980s fighting to create an Islamic "caliphate" in Southeast Asia -- which would unite Muslim-majority regions of the southern Philippines, southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia -- where sharia law would enforced.

Sharia law dates back to the time of Islam's Prophet Mohammad who was born in the city of Mecca in the year 570 and died in Medina in 632, creating the two holiest cities in present-day Saudi Arabia.

The prophet turned Medina into the world's first Islamic society -- with rules that became sharia laws and a constitution regarded as Islam's first political document.

Mr. Bashir's followers at the MMI conference, meanwhile, agreed with his demand to clamp sharia law on Indonesia.

Sharia law metes out severe punishments, including amputation of a hand for theft, and the stoning of death for adultery and other crimes.

Indonesia is home to the world's largest population of Muslims, but sharia law has never been popular.

The organizers of Sunday's rally backed candidates in Indonesia's last national election, but they failed to win any seats in parliament.

Mr. Bashir's continued sway over his followers was expected to cause concern in Jakarta, Washington and elsewhere after the U.S. predicted more terrorist attacks in Indonesia.

"The U.S. government believes extremist elements may be planning additional attacks targeting U.S. interests in Indonesia, particularly U.S. government officials and facilities. As security is increased at official U.S. facilities, terrorists will seek softer targets," the State Department said on Friday (Aug. 8).

"These may include facilities where Americans and Westerners are known to live, congregate, shop, or visit, especially hotels, clubs, restaurants, shopping centers, housing compounds, transportation systems, places of worship, schools, or outdoor recreation events," the State Department warned.

*****
Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/glossograph/


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