AN Indonesian court has jailed radical Islamist cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for 15 years for funding a terrorist group that was planning attacks against Westerners and political leaders.
The 72-year-old preacher showed little emotion as judge Herri Swantoro read out the guilty verdict and sentence at the end of a four-month trial in the South Jakarta district court.
Bashir was found guilty of using violence or the threat of violence to incite terrorism, despite the prosecution weeks ago having conceded that they would not be able to prove all elements of that charge.
The prosecution had been seeking a life sentence in relation to charges of funding terrorism, stemming from the discovery last year of a paramilitary camp in Aceh.
The sentence prompted an angry response from Bashir’s supporters outside the court.
Indonesian police were tonight on high alert for reprisals, with more than 3000 police officers and snipers deployed to the area around the courthouse where the verdict was handed down.
Bashir has previously indicated he will appeal the decision.
The former spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, denied the charges.
Bashir was on trial on charges of sanctioning and funding a jihadi training camp that brought together terrorists from almost every known Indonesian extremist group.
The masterminds behind the camp in a remote area of westernmost Aceh province allegedly planned attacks on foreigners and assassinations of moderate Muslim leaders such as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Bashir has been a potent symbol for Indonesia’s radical Islamists and is regarded by terrorism experts as providing crucial religious and ideological sanction for violent extremism, even if he was not operationally involved in terrorist attacks.
Arrested militants testified during the trial that Bashir watched a video of the Aceh military training and received written reports meant to assure him that all the funds he had raised were being used for jihad.
Bashir denied involvement but repeatedly defended the camp as legal under Islam. He told reporters before the verdict that the trial was an attempt by the U.S. and Australia “to eliminate me from Indonesia.”
Reading out the verdict, the chief judge said the evidence presented in the case had proved the defendant had “incited others” to commit acts of terrorism by persuading them to undertake military training at the Aceh camp.
“As well, he persuaded them to commit violence, which led to the deaths of policemen, and which created an atmosphere of terror… especially for the people of Aceh in general.”
The sentence was announced amid high security at the Jakarta court, where hundreds of hard-line Bashir supporters gathered, some carrying small placards emblazoned with “Don’t play around, free Abu Bakar Bashir.”
Nearly 3,200 police and soldiers were deployed in the area after threats to bomb 36 locations in Indonesia were spread through Twitter and text messages.
“There are many such text phone messages circulating, with some containing serious (threats). We won’t play down such threats,” Jakarta police chief Sutarman earlier told reporters.
Court spokesman Ida Bagus Dwiyantara said judges who handled Bashir’s case had also received the text messages warning of multiple bomb blasts.
“Police will provide special security to the judges,” Dwiyantara said.
Indonesia has been rocked by a series of attacks staged by regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah and its offshoots in recent years, including bombings of tourist spots on Bali, the Australian embassy and luxury Jakarta hotels.
Bashir served almost 26 months behind bars over the 2002 Bali bombings but his conviction was overturned after his release in 2006.
Prosecutors also unsuccessfully charged him with involvement in church bombings in 2000 and an attack on the Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003.
He rejects all allegations of directly supporting terrorist acts but is an outspoken supporter of jihad or “holy war” against the West and Indonesia’s form of secular, democratic government.
For decades he has agitated in mosques, Islamic schools and through radical groups Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), which he established in 2008, for the creation of an Islamic state under strict sharia law.