JAKARTA, Feb 10 – The terrorism trial of a Muslim cleric who regularly praises Al-Qaeda\’s brand of global jihad opened in Indonesia Thursday amid high security and a surge in sectarian violence that has left three dead.
Hardline supporters of 72-year-old radical preacher Abu Bakar Bashir surrounded the south Jakarta court as hundreds of heavily armed police stood by to prevent further outbreaks of mob violence that have shaken Indonesia this week.
The world\’s most populous Muslim-majority country — often praised for its pluralism and tolerance — is still in shock after the gruesome lynching of three members of a minority Islamic sect by an enraged Muslim mob on Sunday.
Two days later another mob of Islamic extremists launched an anti-Christian rampage through the streets of Temanggung, also on the main island of Java, in some of the worst religious violence the country has seen for years.
Wearing his customary white robes and religious garb, a grinning Bashir entered the courtroom to chants of "jihad" (holy war) and "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) from his followers.
"I\’m fine. Prophet Mohammed was also like me," he told reporters.
The trial was quickly adjourned until Monday after the bespectacled cleric\’s defence team complained that he had not been given the minimum three-days notice to appear in court.
It was a low-key start to what is the biggest test of Indonesia\’s anti-terrorism laws since the convictions and executions of three Islamic extremists over the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.
If convicted Bashir could also face the death penalty. He claims he is being framed by the US government.
"Abu Bakar Bashir planned and mobilised other people to break Indonesian law by providing firearms, munitions, explosive materials and other dangerous materials to be used to carry out an act of terrorism," the indictment says, according to a copy obtained by AFP.
A senior ideologue for the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network blamed for the Bali attacks, Bashir served almost 26 months for conspiracy over the bombings before being freed in 2006 and subsequently cleared of any involvement.
Prosecutors have also unsuccessfully charged him with involvement in the bombings of churches across Indonesia in 2000 and the Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003.
The frail but pugnacious cleric denies committing terrorism himself but regularly preaches in praise of Al-Qaeda-style global jihad, and is seen as a hero by many in the radical Islamist movement across the region.
"If you continue to defend secular law, you\’ll go to hell when you die. Those infidels are the worst people on earth — the monkeys in the zoo are more honourable," said Jamal, 60, one of Bashir\’s supporters at the court.
After his release from jail he set up a new group, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, to work for the creation of an Islamic state spanning much of Southeast Asia.
Police say senior figures in the organisation provided support to a militant group that was training to carry out Mumbai-style attacks on Western targets and political figures.
The training camp, set up under the leadership of Indonesian bomb maker Dulmatin, one of the region\’s most wanted terror suspects, was discovered in Aceh province in February last year, triggering a series of raids and arrests.
Dulmatin was killed by police in March and most of the so-called Al-Qaeda in Aceh group\’s leading lights have been gunned down or arrested.