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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March 2005, 12:06 GMT
Verdict leaves no-one satisfied
Ba'asyir's supporters outside court, 3 March
Ba'asyir's supporters are angry that he has been jailed...
The trial of controversial Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir was always going to be a stern test for the five court judges.

In the event they delivered a mixed verdict.

They ruled that the charges relating to an attack on a Jakarta hotel in 2003 were unproven, but that the cleric knew something was being planned in relation to the 2002 Bali attacks, and had done nothing to prevent it.

He was therefore sentenced to 30 months in jail for conspiracy - which, with time already served, means he could be free by the end of 2006.

According to the BBC's correspondent in Jakarta, Rachel Harvey, the Indonesian government is likely - in private at least - to be relieved at the outcome.

"This is almost like a compromise," she said.

If Ba'asyir had been sentenced for the more severe charges against him - on what many analysts consider to be somewhat flimsy evidence - there could have been a strong reaction from his supporters, and even the Indonesian public, she said.

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir outside court, 3 March
...but the US is angry he has not been sentenced for longer

The cleric's view that his trial was just a US-led conspiracy might also have begun to hold water among Indonesians at large, she said.

"On the other hand, there is a feeling that he was guilty of something," she added.

"There is this sense among the government, the police, and certainly the intelligence agencies, that Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is a key figure in the extremist wing of Islam, but it has been extremely difficult to pin down exactly what he is guilty of."

Foreign disappointment

While the verdict might suit the Indonesian government, the international community is less pleased.

The United States and Australia - which have both repeatedly accused Ba'asyir of being the spiritual leader of the militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) - were quick to express their frustration.

We'd have thought that a sentence of more than two and half years was appropriate
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer

"Given the gravity of the charges on which he was convicted, we are disappointed at the length of the sentence," said US Embassy spokesman Max Kwak.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also said he would have liked a longer sentence, considering that the cleric was found guilty in connection with the Bali attacks, in which so many people - including 88 Australians - died.

"For a conspiracy [conviction] in relation to an incident that led to the deaths of over 200 people, we'd have thought that a sentence of more than two and half years was appropriate," he told the BBC.

In contrast, many of Ba'asyir's supporters were outraged that the ageing cleric had been convicted at all.

Many in the courtroom raised their fists, shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) when the sentence was handed out.

"Smash America and its lackeys," one supporter said.

Ba'asyir himself said: "I feel I have been treated arbitrarily with this verdict. It is unlawful for me to accept it and therefore I will appeal."

Martyr status

Some analysts say that Thursday's verdict could actually strengthen Ba'asyir's hand.

"It will increase his martyr status, but yet it doesn't cause him much discomfort," said Greg Barton, an expert on Jemaah Islamiah.

"If he was acquitted completely, it would have been less of a PR victory," Mr Barton told the BBC. "This way, it strengthens his argument that the [US-led] war on terror is way too heavy-handed and unjust."

The verdict may even make it easier for JI to recruit more members, he warned. "It's a pretty unfortunate circumstance all round."

Bali bomb site, October 2002
The court decided Ba'asyir had known about the Bali bombings

US terrorism expert Zachary Abuza agreed.

"They [Bashir's followers] are going to feel vindicated that prosecutors have to drop many charges against him and indeed dropped demands for a fuller sentence," he told the Associated Press.

Mr Barton said that part of the problem for prosecutors trying to prove Ba'asyir's guilt was that much of the evidence against him was not in the public domain.

Some of this evidence is likely to be known to Hambali, suspected to be a senior JI operative, and Omar al-Faruq, reportedly a key link between al-Qaeda and JI.

Both men are in US custody, and neither was given the opportunity to testify in the cleric's trial. In fact the US repeatedly refused Indonesia's requests to interview Hambali.

"If we had all that evidence, I think there would be a damning case against Abu Bakar Ba'asyir," Mr Barton said. "But as it is, the general public is left with very confused idea as to just how dangerous this man is."

"As an individual this man is probably not very dangerous, but when you're talking about moral culpability it's a very different story."

Bali bombing victims remembered
12 Oct 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Cleric jailed over Bali bombings
03 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Abu Bakar Ba'asyir's legal saga
03 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Abu Bakar Ba'asyir
27 Oct 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Jemaah Islamiah still a threat
13 Sep 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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