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Cleric denies creating terror cell

Indonesia's best-known radical Islamic cleric has denied charges he helped set up a new terrorist cell and training camp that allegedly was preparing a series of high-profile assassinations and attacks on Western hotels and embassies.

Abu Bakar Bashir told judges at the South Jakarta District Court that he was a victim of a US conspiracy and that all charges against him were fabricated.

The 72-year-old imam, who has twice escaped terrorism-related convictions, faces a maximum penalty of death if found guilty.

Hundreds of supporters met the co-founder of the al Qaida-linked network Jemaah Islamiyah, which is blamed for a string of deadly suicide bombings in Indonesia, at the tightly guarded court as he pulled up in a police van, smiling and waving.

When told they would not be allowed to enter the courtroom to hear him respond to the charges, his supporters rushed the gates but were quickly forced back by heavily armed police.

Prosecutors say the new terrorist cell uncovered a year ago in Aceh province had been planning Mumbai-style gun attacks on foreigners in the capital, Jakarta, as part of efforts to carve out an Islamist state in the secular nation of 237 million people.

The plot allegedly included the assassinations of prominent, moderate leaders including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has overseen a security crackdown in which hundreds of suspected militants have been arrested.

"My arrest was an order from foreign countries, because the US and Australia do not want to see me free," said Bashir.

Indonesia was thrust into the front lines of the battle against terrorism in 2002, when al Qaida-linked nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali killed 202 people, many of them Australian tourists.

There have been several attacks on Western targets since then, but all have been far less deadly, with the most recent attack two years ago.


From Belfast Telegraph