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Indonesia: Cleric Found Guilty Of 'Evil Conspiracy' At Bali

An Indonesian court has sentenced Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir to 2 1/2 years in jail for his part in a conspiracy to carry out the October 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people. Bashir was cleared of several more serious charges. Those included allegations that he personally ordered the Bali attack and that he had planned the 2003 bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people.

3 March 2005 -- The five-judge panel ruled today that Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is guilty of taking part in what Indonesia's antiterrorism laws describe as an "evil conspiracy."

The conviction is connected to the bombing of tourist sites on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people -- most of them foreigners.

The court determined there was not enough evidence to prove Bashir had actually ordered the Bali attacks or was directly involved in the bombings. But, in reading out the sentence, Chief Justice Soedarto says the court determined that the Muslim cleric had given approval for the attack. And that was enough to convict him on the "evil conspiracy" charges: "The court sentences Abu Bakar Bashir to two years and six months in prison."

The court also found the 66-year-old cleric not guilty of involvement in the 2003 bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people.

The 10 months Bashir spent in prison during the trial will be deducted from his sentence. That means Bashir will be able to leave prison in just over a year and half.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer welcomed the decision to convict Bashir, but Downer says many Australians see the length of the sentence as too short: "Our ambassador in Jakarta has already raised with officials in Jakarta our concern that the sentence isn't very long. We feel [that the sentence is too short], of course, as Australians because so many Australians died in the Bali bombing. We've got to, I think, as a country, not just as a government, express the views on behalf of those whose loved ones were killed in Bali."

The United States also was quick to express disappointment. Max Kwak, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, says Washington respects the independence and judgment of the Indonesian courts. But he says that given the serious nature of the charges on which Bashir was convicted, the U.S. government is disappointed by the length of the sentence.

But Bashir's supporters were outraged that there was any conviction at all. Inside the courtroom, many raised their fists and chanted "Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!" while standing on their chairs.

Several dozen of Bashir's supporters also marched in protest on the street outside of the courtroom. Bashir's lawyers say they will appeal the verdict.

Bashir denies all of the charges against him. His lawyers argue that Bashir is the victim of a politically motivated U.S. plot.

The trial is widely seen as a test case for Indonesia's efforts to fight terrorism in the courtroom. Analysts and independent lawyers say the prosecutors were hampered by a lack of strong evidence against Bashir and witnesses who were reluctant to testify.

Indonesian courts have already sentenced to death three convicted Bali bombers.