Indonesian prosecutors yesterday 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 his 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 of more than US$62,000 to a terrorist group, for which the prosecutors sought a maximum life sentence.
Hundreds of Bashir’s radical followers erupted into chants of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) in support for the man who is widely regarded as a spiritual leader of Southeast Asian jihadists.
Bashir said as he was led away that 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.
About 2,500 police backed by armored vehicles surrounded the Jakarta courtroom as the cleric appeared in his usual white robes to face the sentencing recommendations.
He told reporters before the hearing that he expected prosecutors to seek his execution.
“It is normal that they will seek the death penalty ... I’ve been turned into an icon as if I’m Osama the terrorist,” he said, referring to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed by US special forces in Pakistan last week.
He praised bin Laden as a “holy warrior” who would be richly rewarded in paradise, and warned US President Barack Obama to repent or become a “dog of hell.”
The US-trained Detachment 88 anti-terror police squad was on hand and members of the public were patted down for hidden weapons or bombs as they entered the court.
Bashir is the withered but often smiling face of militant Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
The so-called al-Qaeda in Aceh group he allegedly funded was planning Mumbai-style attacks using squads of suicide gunmen against Westerners, police and political leaders, 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.
Although his former students read like a who’s who of Indonesian jihad, Bashir denies any involvement in terrorism and claims he is being framed by the US and its allies including “the Jews.”