Bashir faces life term with treason charge

Dossier listing his crimes is sent to the prosecutor.

Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, accused of being the spiritual leader of the militant Muslim organisation Jemaah Islamiah (JI), is facing the prospect of life imprisonment after police recommended that he be charged with treason and a host of other crimes against the state.

Bashir, 64, fingered as the force behind the setting up of terrorist cells in South-east Asia, has been in detention since October.

The JI network, which is suspected of involvement in last year’s Bali bombings, has been linked to the Al-Qaeda terror group.

Police said yesterday they had handed a dossier to prosecutors listing Bashir’s crimes. Mr Mulyohardjo of the prosecutor’s office said: ‘We have very strong evidence to prosecute Bashir and see that he spends time in jail.’

The treason charge relates to plans to create an Islamic state in Indonesia and the region.

There is also evidence implicating him in a string of church bombings in 2000 that killed 19 people and involvement in a plot to assassinate Indonesian leader Megawati Sukarnoputri when she was vice-president.

Under Indonesian law, prosecutors have 14 days to study the police file. They can then either submit it to the courts for trial or return it to the police to be revised.

Mr Mulyohardjo said that given the strength of the charges, it was likely that prosecutors would press for a trial to convict Bashir.

The Indonesian police, who had earlier been accused of dragging their feet in their investigations, have become more aggressive about nailing Bashir given the support of the political elite for the probe and the evidence they have gathered against him so far.

Based on confessions from terror suspects in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, they believe that he was linked closely to Omar Al-Farouq, one of Osama bin Laden’s top operatives in the region.

Al-Farouq, who was captured by the United States in June last year, himself pointed the finger at Bashir during his interrogation.

Police also have statements from five people who linked Bashir to the bombings of at least three churches in Batam on Christmas Eve more than two years ago.

At least two of the suspects in the Bali bombings – Amrozi and his elder brother Mukhlas – spent time in his religious boarding school in Solo, Central Java.

There was no immediate comment from Bashir or his lawyers. His brother-in-law Umar Baraja continued to maintain the cleric’s innocence and warned of a backlash if he went to prison.

But threats of reprisals have so far not materialised.

A one-star police general involved in the investigation told The Straits Times that the main concern was whether the trial would become a protracted and messy affair.

It was important, he said, for the judiciary to remain neutral even as Bashir’s lawyers tried to influence public opinion.

‘I am confident that we have got him,’ he said. ‘Now, it is really up to the courts to convict him.’

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