An Indonesian court yesterday sentenced militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir to 30 months in prison for conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombings, but cleared him of more serious terror charges. The sentence was criticized as too light by the US and Australia, who regard the aging preacher as a key regional terror leader.
Judges also cleared Bashir of allegations that as head of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group he planned the 2003 suicide bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta which killed 12 people, and that he incited his followers to launch terrorist attacks.
The 66-year-old preacher could be released from prison by October 2006 with time already served taken into account. He has been in jail since April.
Bashir had faced a maximum penalty of death over the Marriott charge, but most analysts had predicted his punishment would be far less -- partly due to a weak case by prosecutors. During the five-month trial, only one witness directly testified that Bashir headed Jemaah Islamiyah, the group blamed in both attacks.
"I'm being oppressed by people from abroad and at home," Bashir said after the verdict, surrounded by hundreds of cheering supporters. "They consider Islamic law to be a shackle and are slaves to immoral behavior. Allah, open their hearts or destroy them."
"Smash America and its lackeys," shouted one supporter, his face covered by a red scarf.
Both sides said they would consider appealing the verdict, with Bashir's lawyers calling the sentence politically motivated.