One of Indonesia’s most notorious Muslim clerics was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday for providing crucial support to a militant training camp uncovered last year.
As the co-founder of the radical group Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Bakar Bashir is widely known as the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people, many of them Americans and Australians. After two previously unsuccessful attempts to sentence him for extremist activities, the 72-year old cleric was sentenced for his role in helping set up a training camp for militants in Indonesia’s western Aceh province. Bashir was found guilty of inciting terrorism within the camp, which was raided last year. Militants there allegedly intended to carry out wide-scale attacks on foreigners and planned the assassination of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
After years of failed prosecution, the Jakarta court's decision is considered a victory for Indonesia’s moderate democratic government, working to crack down on extremist threats within its borders. Over the last decade, Bashir has been in and out of prison on various charges. His appeals have been successful before: Bashir was freed in 2006 after his conviction for the Bali bombings was overturned.
Bashir has consistently denied involvement in the camp and terrorism in general. His lawyers said he would appeal this ruling as well. "This verdict ignores Sharia law and is based on the infidel law, so it's forbidden for me to accept it," Bashir said in a statement.
The judges acquitted Bashir of a charge of funding terrorist activities, saying there was not enough evidence to prove the cleric knew the camp used his money to purchase weapons.
During the trial, “arrested militants testified... 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 the struggle to build an Islamic state,” the London Guardian reported.