IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Indonesian cleric mocks terror charges

Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir told a court on Thursday his terrorism trial was a joke and mocked prosecutors.
/ Source: Reuters

Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir told a court on Thursday his terrorism trial was a joke and mocked prosecutors by challenging them to file more bombing charges against him so the “thrill” was complete.

Delivering a scathing defense statement, Bashir accused the world’s most populous Muslim nation of bending to U.S. President George W. Bush. He earlier said he hoped God would punish the United States for Bush’s re-election.

Prosecutors have accused Bashir of leading an al Qaeda-linked militant network and inciting others to carry out attacks such as a suicide bombing at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August last year that killed 12 people.

“I’m being charged with the Marriott bombing despite the fact I had been in jail for a year. I did not even know there was a hotel called the Marriott,” said Bashir, 66, wearing his trademark white skull cap and a checked scarf.

'Charges are jokes'
“These charges are jokes. To make the charges more colorful I suggest the bombing at the KPU, the bombing in Kuningan and the bombing at the Indonesian embassy in Paris be included so that the thrill is complete.”

He later shed tears when reciting an Islamic prayer. Indonesia has been hit by numerous bomb attacks in the past several years. The most recent was a suicide bombing outside the Australian embassy in the Jakarta suburb of Kuningan in September which killed 10 people.

A small blast hit the election commission, or KPU, in July, and there was a similar small explosion outside the Indonesian embassy in Paris last month.

Bashir’s lawyers will present a long defense of their client at Thursday’s session of the trial, which opened last week and is an early test of promises by new President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to fight Islamic militancy.

Speaking to reporters before his trial resumed, Bashir said God would respond to Bush’s victory.

“... Maybe there will be a disaster in America because President Bush keeps committing crimes. Unless he changes, God willing, there will be a disaster,” he said.

Bashir was arrested shortly after bombs ripped through two nightclubs in Bali in 2002, killing 202 people, but courts ruled charges brought under the criminal code over his leadership of the Jemaah Islamiah network, seen as the regional arm of al Qaeda, and links to earlier violence were unproven.

He instead served 18 months for immigration violations but was re-arrested once that sentence had been served.

Faces death penalty
Prosecutors have charged Bashir with leading Jemaah Islamiah in relation to the Marriott and Bali attacks. Authorities have blamed Jemaah Islamiah for both.

He could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Terrorism laws apply to the Marriott attack, while the criminal code covers Bali. The terrorism laws were enacted after the Bali blasts and cannot be applied retroactively.

Prosecutors have also said Bashir ordered members of Jemaah Islamiah to disseminate statements from al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden calling for war against Americans.

President Yudhoyono has pledged to protect Indonesia from terrorism, but some Indonesians believe the United States is behind Bashir’s second trial. Two Islamist parties that support Yudhoyono in parliament have also expressed sympathy for Bashir.

However, there is also growing revulsion at terror attacks, giving Yudhoyono more room to get tougher, some analysts say.