- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

The United States said yesterday that it was “disappointed” and “disturbed” by the 2-1/2-year prison sentence a five-judge panel in Indonesia handed a Muslim cleric for conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 persons, including seven Americans.

Abu Bakar Bashir, who is thought to be the leader of the al Qaeda-linked group Jemaah Islamiyah, also was cleared of charges that he planned the 2003 suicide attack on the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The 66-year-old Bashir, who has been in jail since April, could be released by October 2006 because of time served.

“We are disappointed with the results of this trial. We believe these results are not commensurate with Bashir’s culpability,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

“During the trial, the prosecutors presented substantial evidence which we found convincing of Bashir’s involvement in terrorism,” Mr. Boucher said. “And in particular, therefore, we are disturbed by the message sent by the relatively brief sentence.”

Mr. Boucher did not criticize the court itself.

“We are convinced that they have an increasingly independent judicial system, one that can stand on its own merits and stand on its own feet,” he said.

Mr. Boucher said more than 100 terrorists have been prosecuted and convicted in Indonesia since the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombing.

Australia, which lost 88 of its citizens in the blast, also criticized the ruling, with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer saying, “We would have liked a longer sentence.”

Bashir had faced the death penalty over the Marriott bombing, in which 12 persons died. He also was accused of inciting his followers to carry out terrorist attacks.

The five-judge panel said yesterday that there was neither evidence nor were there witnesses to prove that Bashir, who was in jail at the time, was involved in the Marriott attack.

The Bali conspiracy conviction stemmed from charges that Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, who was convicted with 35 other militants for bombing the nightclub district, had visited Bashir three months before the attack to ask for his blessing, which the cleric reportedly gave.

Amrozi did not testify during the trial, but the prosecution introduced a confession he reportedly made to the police. Bashir denied such a meeting had taken place.

“I’m being oppressed by people from abroad and at home,” Bashir said after the verdict was read yesterday. “They consider Islamic law to be a shackle and are slaves to immoral behavior. Allah, open their hearts or destroy them.”

Accusations that Washington had pressured Jakarta to be tough on Bashir were a key part of his defense. One of its witnesses, a former State Department interpreter, testified that the Bush administration had asked then President Megawati Sukarnoputri to hand Bashir over to the United States but she refused.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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