Published December 28, 2004
JAKARTA, Indonesia – The militant cleric accused of heading the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (search) led prayers Tuesday for the Indonesian victims of Asia's tsunami disaster before his ongoing terrorism trial opened.
Despite the charges leveled against him, Abu Bakar Bashir's (search) age and status as an Islamic teacher means he is treated with respect by many Indonesians.
Judges at the court granted the 68-year-old Bashir permission to say the prayer, before joining lawyers, prosecutors and police in bowing their heads as he recited it in Arabic for two minutes.
As many as 25,000 people are feared by Indonesia's government to have died on Sumatra island as a result of Sunday's quake and resulting tsunamis. More than 20,000 were killed elsewhere in Asia.
Bashir is being tried on charges of inspiring Jemaah Islamiyah members to carry out the Oct. 12, 2002, Bali nightclub bombings (search) and last year's attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, that together left 214 dead.
Most of the witnesses presented at his trial have failed to link Bashir to any crime. On Tuesday, Singaporean militant Mas Slamet Kastari told the court that he last met Bashir in 1990 in Malaysia, but that he never called for any acts of violence.
Kastari is in jail in Indonesia after being convicted of immigration offenses. Singaporean authorities have accused him of being the commander of the city state's Jemaah Islamiyah cell. He has also been linked to an alleged failed plot to hijack an Aeroflot plane from Bangkok and crash it into Singapore's airport.