'Spiritual leader' who approved Bali bomb jailed for 30 months

An Indonesian court has sentenced the cleric Abu Bakar Bashir to 30 months in prison after finding him guilty of conspiracy to commit the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.

A panel of judges said that although the 66-year-old, accused of being the spiritual leader of the radical Islamist network Jemaah Islamiyah, had not been directly involved in the attacks, he had given his approval to the bombers who killed more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists.

"The defendant has been proven legally and convincingly to have committed the crime of evil conspiracy that ... left other people dead," the chief judge Soedarto said yesterday. "The defendant knew that the perpetrators of the bombing were people who have been trained in bomb-making in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

The sentence was greeted with outrage by British relatives of the Bali victims. "For us, conspiring is as bad as lighting the fuse," Sue Cooper, whose brother Paul Hussey was killed, told The Independent. "This is an insult to the people that died. It's four days in prison for each person killed."

The trial was seen as an indicator of Jakarta's willingness to counter terrorism through the courts, but the case has been hampered by the absence of any substantial evidence and the reluctance of witnesses to testify. However, Jakarta has already jailed dozens of suspected militants for involvement in the bombings and three men have been sentenced to death.

Both the US and Australian governments, which have linked Jemaah Islamiyah to al-Qa'ida, were quick to express their disappointment that the sentence was not more severe. "Given the gravity of the charges on which he was convicted, we are disappointed at the length of the sentence," a US embassy spokesman said.

Indonesian police are adamant that there was no direct link to al-Qa'ida, and there appears to have been no master bomber from the terror network and no close association with Osama bin Laden.

Bashir was charged with criminal acts of arson and explosion over the Bali attacks and under anti-terrorism laws for a 2003 hotel bombing in Jakarta that left 12 people dead. He has denied any involvement in either attack and denied the existence of Jemaah Islamiyah. The court was told that the cleric was not involved in the Jakarta attack.

"I am being oppressed by people from abroad and at home," Bashir said after the verdict. His supporters chanted anti-American slogans outside the court.

A former associate of Bashir, Riduan Isamuddin, who is suspected of masterminding the Bali bombings, was arrested in Thailand last summer. Dubbed "Asia's Bin Laden" by the CIA, the militant scholar, also known as Hambali, is in US custody.

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