Indonesia’s best-known radical cleric went on trial Monday on fresh terrorism charges as the predominantly Muslim nation grappled with a jump in religious tensions and violence, the Associated Press reports.
Abu Bakar Bashir, a spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-linked network Jemaah Islamiyah, faces a maximum penalty of death if found guilty of helping fund a new terror cell in Aceh province and mobilizing foot soldiers.
The 72-year-old religious leader dismissed terrorism charges against him as a conspiracy, AFP says.
Prosecutors say Bashir raised more than $140,000 for a new group called “Al-Qaeda in Aceh” which was discovered in Aceh province, Sumatra, in February last year.
According to the indictment, he met the group’s operations leader, wanted terrorist Dulmatin, and incited members to conduct attacks including murders and robberies in the name of jihad, or “holy war”.
If convicted Bashir could face the death penalty.
Police believe Mr Ba’asyir is the spiritual inspiration of extremist activities across Indonesia, says the BBC‘s Jennifer Pak at the court in Jakarta.
Mr Ba’asyir was convicted of conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombings, but the sentence was later overturned on appeal.
Outside the courtroom, however, there are concerns that any conviction could spark a wave of sympathy among those who share in his beliefs.
The BBC has a profile on Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and provides the following timeline:
1972: Set up the radical al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Java
1978: Jailed by Suharto regime for inciting rejection of secular national ideology in favour of Islamic state
1982: Flees to Malaysia after release, spends 17 years in exile
1999: Returns to Indonesia and renews call for Sharia law
2003: Accused of being spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, the group behind the Bali bombings – a claim he denies
2006: Released after conviction for conspiracy in Bali attacks is overturned, after serving 26 months
2008: Formed radical group Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT)
February 2010: Militant training camp uncovered in Aceh
August 2010: Arrested in West Java on terrorism charges – he denies the allegations