Bashir charged with inciting Bali bombings

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INDONESIA is stepping up the fight against Islamic extremism with fresh charges against hardline Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, this time for involvement in the country’s worst terrorist attack.

State prosecutors filed charges at the weekend accusing the 66-year-old preacher of being party to a ‘sinister conspiracy’ to bomb nightclubs in Bali in 2002. He faces a jail term of 20 years to life if convicted. The attack left 202 people dead.

A day earlier, he was accused of plotting last year’s Marriott hotel bombing that killed 12 people.

Investigators believe that he helped conceal large amounts of explosives used in the attack on the Jakarta hotel.

Bashir faces death for the Marriott bombing under Indonesia’s tough new anti-terrorism laws.

But the charges in connection with the Bali blasts were filed under the criminal code after a court in August struck down the retroactive use of the anti-terror legislation.

Commenting on the twin track approach, former attorney-general Marzuki Darusman told The Sunday Times:

‘The prosecutors are drawing on the same evidence against Bashir but using a different legal basis to pin him down. It is a victory of sorts after having had their case stalled by the Constitutional Court.’

The fresh charges against Bashir come just days before a new administration is sworn into power.

President-elect Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to take a tougher stand on terrorism.

He has made his position clear in the preceding months, and the latest spate of charges is seen as part of efforts by officials to show that they are keeping up their fight against Bashir’s lawyers to bring the cleric to book.

In the 65-page charge sheet, Bashir is accused of planning or inciting others to terrorism in the Bali bombings.

Prosecutors are making the link by homing in on an August 2002 conversation he had with Amrozi, during which the convicted bomber was said to have asked the cleric for permission to ‘hold an event in Bali’.

Bashir allegedly replied: ‘It is up to all of you since you are the ones who know the situation in the field.’

On receiving the reply, Amrozi, who is on death row, went ahead with the planning and execution of the bombings, according to the indictment.

More than 30 people have been brought to book over the Bali bombings; three militants, including Amrozi, have been sentenced to death.

Bashir, who was arrested days after the Bali attack, denies any connection with the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist network blamed for the bombings.

The prosecution has had a hard time holding him responsible for terrorist attacks. Its case that he was the JI’s leader was thrown out by the court, and Bashir was later convicted on minor immigration charges.

After he had served his sentence for those convictions, Indonesian police detained him again under a new set of anti-terror laws passed in the Bali aftermath.

But hardliners in Dr Yudhoyono’s circle want even tougher measures, such as detention without trial.

The incoming president will not have it easy given likely opposition from the Muslim ground and human rights groups, but the matter is being given serious consideration by his team of legal and military experts.

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