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Indonesian Will Be Freed Early

Court reduces the sentence of the Muslim cleric accused of heading a terrorist network blamed for deadly Bali and Marriott bombings.

March 09, 2004|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, accused of heading the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network, will be released from prison by next month under an Indonesian Supreme Court decision slashing his sentence in half, attorneys for Bashir said today.

The court refused to reinstate Bashir's conviction on treason charges, which was thrown out by an appellate court, but upheld his convictions for violating immigration laws and forging an identity document.

"After three court rulings, terrorism is not proved," said Mohammed Assegaf, one of Bashir's 68 attorneys.

The 65-year-old cleric, who has been identified as a leading terror suspect by the U.S. and other governments, maintains that Jemaah Islamiah does not exist and denies any part in terrorist activities.

Jemaah Islamiah, which has close ties to Al Qaeda, has been blamed for dozens of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines, including the Bali nightclub and Jakarta JW Marriott Hotel suicide attacks that killed 214 people. The group, which seeks an Islamic state in Southeast Asia, also is accused of plotting to kill President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Bashir was arrested in October 2002 a week after the Bali blasts but was not charged in that case. The trial court found him guilty of participating in treasonous activity by preaching holy war to Jemaah Islamiah members and sending some for military training in Afghanistan.

He also was found guilty of immigration violations and forging an identity document upon his return to Indonesia in 1999. Bashir had fled abroad in 1985 to avoid being imprisoned on sedition charges.

Late last year, the Jakarta High Court ruled that Bashir had helped found Jemaah Islamiah and had approved several bombings, including the Bali blast and church bombings that killed 19 people on Christmas Eve 2000. But the appellate court concluded that these amounted to terrorism, not treason, and overturned the treason conviction. Prosecutors have never charged Bashir with terrorism.

At the time, the appellate court said Bashir's approval of the bomb plots "does not constitute the implementation of the intent to topple the government, because the targets of bomb explosions are not

The Supreme Court has not made public the text of its ruling, but Bashir's attorneys said the top court agreed with the appellate court.

The trial court originally sentenced Bashir to four years in prison. The appellate court trimmed that to three years and the Supreme Court reduced it to 18 months. He is now eligible for release April 19, but could be freed earlier if he receives credit for good behavior.

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