Indonesia Unintimidated, Jails Islamic Firebrand
In a week when Afghan president Hamid Karzai cozied up to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kazakhstan and Pakistan was arresting citizens who provided information to the Americans about Osama bin Laden's hideout, there was a bit of good news.
An Indonesian court sentenced the former spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), Abul Bakar Bashir, to 15 years imprisonment for inciting terrorism. Considering the age and physical condition of the Islamic firebrand preacher, this is tantamount to a life sentence.
The verdict was greeted with satisfaction in Australia as partial closure for the 2002 bombings in a Bali nightclub for which JI was responsible. 88 Australian citizens perished in this atrocity.
Bashir has referred to the Australian tourists in Indonesia as "worms, snakes and maggots". Bashir had previously evaded charges that he was responsible for church bombings in Indonesia and the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressed her satisfaction, saying: "Over the past decade, Indonesia has acted very strongly against terrorism."
The Bali bombings awakened the Indonesian authorities to the reality that they had a problem on their hands. Untill then they had been sanguine that Indonesian culture precluded the emergence of a violent fundamentalist Islam in their country.
Bashir rejected the verdict as the work of the devil and contrary to Islam and therefore unacceptable. His lawyers plan to file an appeal claiming that direct responsibility has not been established. According to Bashir, he is not the terrorist, rather,it is the United States, its allies and Jews everywhere who are practicing terrorism against Islam. It is a Muslim religious duty to wage war against these "terrorists".
The specific charge was inciting terrorism and raising funds for a terrorist training camp in the Aceh province. When police raided the camp in February 2010, they found large caches of ammunition and weapons including assault rifles. The weapons were to be used against the police and Western targets. The terrorist base would also serve as a nucleus for an Islamic state in the making
While the Indonesian authorities allowed supporters of Bashir dressed in traditional Muslim garb to follow the court proceedings via speakers outside the courthouse, there was a heavy police presence to prevent any disturbances upon the announcement of the verdict. Bashir's supporters contented themselves with cries of Allahu Akbar.
In contrast with Pakistan, the authorities announced that a special team would provide protection to judges and prosecutors involved in the trial, in case the Islamists were thinking of retribution.