- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Feb. 28 (UPI) — Indonesian police on Friday handed over militant Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Baasyir to the prosecutor's office, charging him with treason and violations of immigration laws.

Baasyir, believed to be the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant terror group, was initially accused for his involvement in a string of church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 that left at least 18 people dead. He also was suspected of taking part in a plot to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

"If found guilty of treason against the (Indonesian) government, he (Baasyir) could face a maximum sentence up to 20 years in prison," said Brig. Gen. Edward Aritonang, the national police spokesman.

Baasyir also was accused of immigration violations and falsifying documents, charges that could incur another five years in jail if convicted.

Baasyir's defense attorneys expressed surprise with the police's move to reverse their charges against the Muslim cleric.

Investigators have also said recently that Baasyir knew and had given a "blessing" to the Oct. 12 bombings of two nightclubs in Bali that left at least 202 people dead, mostly foreign visitors. However, he has not been named as a suspect in the Bali blasts.

Aritonang said early this week that police were still investigating Baasyir's possible role in the Bali bombings.

Baasyir has denied any terrorism links and contends that Jemaah Islamiyah doesn't exist.

An advocate of implementing Islamic law in Indonesia and building pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia, Baasyir has attracted the ire of Indonesia's neighbors.

Singapore accused Baasyir of plotting terrorist attacks in the city-state in the months before the Bali bombing, but Jakarta initially refused to move against him for fear of offending his Muslim supporters. Indonesia's population is predominantly Muslim.

Along with the late Abdullah Sungkar, Baasyir was a co-founder of Jemaah Islamiyah. Baasyir, 64, was detained in 1978 and 1982 for subversive activities by the regime of Indonesia's former dictator Suharto.

Baasyir went into exile in Malaysia in 1985 and was joined there by Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, who is believed to be senior operative of al Qaida in Southeast Asia and a leading figure in Jemaah Islamiyah.

The United States and other countries believe Jemaah Islamiyah is the main ally of Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network in the region. The United Nations put JI on the list of terrorist groups late last year.

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