Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Muslim cleric says he was arrested on Bush's orders

TERROR TRIAL In court yesterday in Jakarta, Abu Bakar Bashir said the US president had ordered Indonesian police to make up the charges of terrorism against him

AP , JAKARTA, INDONESIA

Alleged Southeast Asian extremist chief Abu Bakar Bashir yesterday accused police of arresting him on orders of US President George W. Bush, and dismissed terror charges against him as "laughable."

In a rambling defense plea read to court, the 66-year-old cleric also attacked the secular government in the world's most populous Muslim nation, accusing Jakarta of ignoring the plight of Muslims killed by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bashir is accused of heading the al-Qaeda-linked terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, and of inciting his followers to take part in the 2002 Bali bombings and the JW Marriott Hotel attack last year in Jakarta. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

The US and Australia have publicly accused Bashir of being a key Southeast Asian terrorist, and have long called on Jakarta to arrest him. He has been in prison since shortly after the Bali bombings.

Yesterday was the second day of proceedings in his trial, which is seen as a test of the willingness of new Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to crack down on high-profile militants.

"The disgusting thing is that [President] Bush has ordered the police to make up these disgusting charges against me," Bashir told the court.

Around 100 of his supporters yelled "God is great" as he spoke.

Bashir -- who has long been a vocal critic of US foreign policy in Muslim lands -- has always declared his innocence. Last year, he was acquitted of related terror crimes.

He told the court that he was in Indonesia when prosecutors claim he made an inflammatory speech at an alleged Jemaah Islamiyah training camp in the Philippines in 2000, and noted that when the Marriott bomb exploded he was in prison.

"All these charges are truly laughable," he said. "The Bush regime also accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of having weapons of mass destruction but until today there is no proof they existed. With this lie, he attacked and occupied Iraq and brutally killed Iraqi Muslims and abused them inside prison."

He accused Indonesia of "doing nothing" to protest the killings. "Those with power in this country always take a weak stance against the enemies of Allah: the Bush regime."

Bashir's attorneys were expected to read out their objections to the charges later yesterday, and ask judges to dismiss them. The court will rule on whether to continue the trial next week.

The Oct. 12, 2002, Bali bombings killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Twelve people died in the Marriott attack while the attack on the embassy killed nine.

Bashir has little active support in Indonesia, where hardline Islam is not popular, but he has received sympathy from some mainstream clerics and government officials, who view him as a victim of foreign intervention in the country's internal affairs.

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