Radical Indonesia cleric rejects terrorism charges

A radical Indonesian cleric facing life in prison on terrorism charges professed his innocence Monday and rejected the trial as outside Islamic law in a final court appearance before judges announce a verdict.

Abu Bakar Bashir is accused of helping to set up and fund a terror training camp in Aceh province for a group that allegedly planned attacks on foreigners and assassinations of moderate Muslim leaders such as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Bashir, who co-founded the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah network, which is blamed for some of Indonesia's deadliest suicide bombings.

Bashir, 72, denies involvement with the training camp but has repeatedly defended it as legal under Islam.

The white-bearded cleric told a Jakarta court that the case against him was fabricated and witnesses that testified by teleconference were doing so under pressure.

"Therefore their testimonies could not be trusted," he said.

Citing verses from the Quran, Bashir said he rejected the trial as counter to Islam.

Indonesia, a secular nation of 237 million with more Muslims than any other in the world, has made strides in fighting terrorism since the first Jemaah Islamiyah-linked attack on Bali island in 2002.

More than 260 people have died altogether, many of them Western tourists.

But the country still faces pockets of radicalized Islamists, and a small but increasingly vocal hard-line fringe has carried out violent attacks in recent months on minorities and police.

A panel of five judges is to announce its verdict on June 16. The maximum penalty for the terror charges is death.

Prosecutors say testimony from dozens of witnesses at Bashir's trial proved he not only incited others but played an active role in terrorist activities.

In a court appearance last month, the fiery cleric called Osama bin Laden a "warrior" who will be rewarded in heaven for the "great sacrifices" he made for Islam.

The Aceh-based training camp, raided by an anti-terror squad early last year, was organized by a new terror cell allegedly planning Mumbai-style attacks.

It's not the first time Bashir has faced terrorism charges or spent time in detention.

He was arrested almost immediately after the Bali bombings, but prosecutors were unable to prove a string of terrorism-related allegations and reduced his four-year prison sentence to 18 months for immigration violations.

Soon after his release, he was re-arrested and sentenced to 2 1/2 years, this time for inciting the Bali blasts, a charge that was overturned on appeal. He was freed in 2006.