Bashir escapes possible death penalty

INDONESIAN prosecutors today dropped the most serious terror charges against radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for lack of evidence, leaving him facing a possible life sentence instead of death.

Prosecutors at Bashir’s trial in Jakarta said the charge of providing firearms and explosives for terrorist acts, for which the 72-year-old preacher could have faced the death penalty, “could not be proven convincingly”.

The charge of inciting acts of terrorism was also dropped, leaving only the accusation of providing funding to a terrorist group, for which the prosecutors sought a maximum life sentence.

As he was led away Bashir said he rejected the charges and condemned the prosecutors as “friends of the devil”.

“Friends of the devil are always like that, always at war with people who try to defend Islam,” he said.

“Such insolence. These people should be called terrorists, may Allah immediately send them a disaster.”

He said the charges were bogus. “I should have been freed,” he added.

Hundreds of Bashir’s radical followers erupted into chants of support for the man who is widely regarded as a spiritual leader of south-east Asian jihadists.

Some 2500 heavily armed police were on hand to prevent violence, but Islamist hardliners at the court instead welcomed the stiffest charges being dropped as a victory.

Bashir now stands accused only of providing funds to the so-called al-Qa’ida in Aceh group that was planning Mumbai-style attacks in Indonesia, according to police.

Its operations leader, Indonesian bomb maker Dulmatin, was killed by police in March last year. Scores of other members of the group have been killed or captured.

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