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Ba'asyir dismisses bombing charges as 'joke'

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

The elderly Muslim cleric who is on trial for the bombings in Bali and at the JW Mariott Hotel in Jakarta, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, mocked the court on Thursday and challenged it to pile on the charges.

Ba'asyir said in his defense plea that the charges addressed to him was a mere joke, made only to satisfy the United States.

"To add to the thrill, why not add the bombing (in front of) the General Election Commission (July 26), the Kuningan bombing (in September) and the blast (in front of) the Indonesian Embassy in Paris (Oct. 8) to my charges," Ba'asyir said, referring to a number of bombings this year.

He faces criminal charges for the bombings in Bali in 2002 which claimed 202 lives, for which the maximum penalty is life, and of violating the anti terrorism law for the U.S.-chain JW Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta in 2003 which killed 12 people.

Earlier the Constitutional Court ruled that the anti terrorism law which was passed early last year and for which the maximum penalty is death, could not apply retroactively.

"I was accused for being involved with the Marriott bombing while I had been under detention for about a year. I didn't even know that Marriott was a name of a hotel," the 66-year-old cleric said reading his statement.

"Perhaps the police and the prosecutors believe I could go in and out of prison magically ... This is really a joke," he said.

He reiterated claims that his trial was part of a U.S. scenario to pressure on Muslims. Referring to President George W. Bush, who has just been re-elected, he said, "He made things up, as if it was a fight against terrorism. Bush's definition of a terrorist is every Muslim who tries to establish Islamic law."

Ba'asyir is also accused for attending a graduation ceremony of an Islamic militia training in Mindanao, the Philippines, in April 2000, an incident which the prosecution relates to his involvement in the bombings.

Graduates of the training included Malaysian nationals Azahari and Noordin M. Top, leading fugitives wanted for several bombing cases in Indonesia, including the latest, Sept. 9 blast in front of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta which claimed 10 lives. The training is said to be held by the United Nations-listed terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah, which Ba'asyir is accused of leading.

"I was busy preparing the Congress of Majelis Mujahiddin Indonesia (MMI) in Yogyakarta at that time," said Ba'asyir of the organization which he chairs.

His lawyer Muhammad Assegaff said that the prosecutor "had connected several entirely unrelated events." Also citing the interest of the U.S. and its allies including Australia in the war on terrorism, Assegaff questioned why his client was prosecuted for the Bali bombing only two years after the event.

After the trial, Ba'asyir asked for a suspended detention to celebrate the coming Idul Fitri with his family at home. The judges said they would consider the request.

Thursday trial's was attended by dozens of Ba'asyir's supporters, his wife and two sons.

The trial was adjourned until Nov. 11 to hear the prosecutor's response to the defense statement.

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