Bashir Uses Final Defense to Blast ‘US Influence’
Islamist cleric Abu Bakar Bashir used his final defense against charges of funding a militant group on Wednesday to denounce the United States for trying to stop Islamic preaching in Indonesia.
Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for the frail Bashir, 72, who delivered a speech in a piercing voice accusing the government of of being under strong US influence.
Bashir does not command widespread support in Indonesia, but the speech could inflame hardcore Islamists who have already vowed reprisal attacks following the US killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Prosecutors said Bashir raised at least Rp 350 million ($41,000) from supporters and funneled some to a militant training camp discovered last year in a remote mountainous part of Aceh.
"Prosecutors accused me of being behind Aceh and being its biggest financier — it is an accusation and slander, with the interests of the pharaoh US for me to be diminished from Indonesian society," Bashir told the South Jakarta court.
"Because my preaching is considered dangerous, and with this lifetime of jail, the dream of the pharaoh U.S. and its allies will come true."
Copies of the 55-minute speech were being sold at the court for Rp 20,000, with a form attached to join Bashir's group, Jema'ah Ansharut Tauhid, which has formally renounced violence but whose members have been involved in recent attacks including a suicide bombing at a police mosque on Java island.
Days prior to the trial, his followers invited people with text messages to attend "Bashir's Islamic lecture" in court.
Hundreds of men in skull caps and women in burqas arrived, filling the public gallery and spilling into the court car park to watch it on television. With fists in the air, they shouted "Allahu akbar," or God is greatest".
Police, who have scored success in tackling terror groups in recent years, say militants at the Aceh camp were hatching several plots including an attack on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and hoped to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state.
As well as being the spiritual leader of JAT, Bashir was considered the spiritual leader of the outlawed and now-defunct Jemaah Islamiah, which police have blamed for several bombings including the country's worst ever militant attack, the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.
A verdict is not due until June.
Reuters *The jakarta globe