Cleric Charged in Jakarta Hotel Bombing

Indonesian prosecutors on Friday formally charged militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir (search) with ordering his followers to launch a suicide attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta last year.

Prosecutors had said earlier that Bashir would be charged with heading Jemaah Islamiyah (search), the Al Qaeda (search) linked group blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings. It was unclear whether those charges were among those filed Friday.

Jemaah Islamiyah has also been blamed for the Marriott attack, which killed 12, and last month's attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in which nine people died.

The trial of the 68-year-old cleric could now start within weeks. He was charged under the country's anti-terror law which allows for the death sentence.

"Bashir is charged with motivating or ordering people to take part in terrorism, in this case related to the J.W. Marriott bombing," prosecutor Andi Herman said after filing a 65-page charge sheet against Bashir to the South Jakarta District Court.

Herman also said Bashir would be charged with storing explosives in the seizure of bomb making materials last year in Central Java province.

Washington and other foreign governments accuse Bashir of heading Jemaah Islamiyah, and efforts to convict him are being monitored closely outside Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Bashir, who was in jail at the time of the Marriott attack, denies any wrongdoing, and says he is being targeted for his campaign to introduce Islamic law in Indonesia.

In 2002, an Indonesian court cleared Bashir of heading terror charges, but sentenced him to 18 months in jail for minor immigration violations. He was re-arrested in April after serving his sentence.

Bashir's lawyer Wirawan Adnan said prosecutors don't have a case but feared his client would be found guilty anyway.

"He has a good alibi. He was in jail when this happened," he said. "But I don't think we'll win this case. He'll be in jail forever."

Authorities dropped plans to charge Bashir in connection with the Bali attacks, after the country's top court ruled earlier this year that the retroactive application of the anti-terror law was unconstitutional.

Bashir has little active support in Indonesia, but some fellow clerics and ordinary Indonesians are sympathetic to his plight amid allegations that he is a victim of American pressure on Indonesia to crack down on terror.