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Indonesia Cleric Guilty Of Lesser

A court convicted radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir on Tuesday of inciting others to overthrow the government but acquitted him of the bigger charge of leading an al Qaeda linked terror group.

The cleric was sentenced to four years in prison. Judges said there was insufficient evidence to support evidence that Bashir is the top power behind Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombings and the Aug. 5 bombing of Jakarta's Marriott Hotel.

But "the defendant ... had knowledge of an organization that is trying to topple the government," Judge Muhammad Saleh said, issuing the five-judge panel's sometimes contradictory decision. "That is why the secondary charge has been proven."

The trial was seen as a key test of Indonesia's commitment to confronting Islamic militancy, and the mixed result and lenient sentence threw an unclear light on the efforts by the world's most- populous Muslim nation to crack down on terrorism.

The sentence — falling well short of the maximum penalty of life imprisonment — suggested that Indonesian authorities want to curb extremism without alienating mainstream Islamic opinion.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri's coalition government depends on the support of moderate Muslim parties. Representatives of these parties, including her own vice president, Hamzah Haz, have expressed support for Bashir.

Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Bashir to 15 years in jail on the main charge of belonging to a terrorist organization and the lesser charges of sedition and immigration offenses.

Hundreds of Bashir supporters initially broke into joyous cheers at the verdict, mistakenly believing their leader was cleared of all charges. After the trial ended, some followers chanted "Hang America."

The 65-year-old cleric said he would appeal.

Prosecutors tried to link Bashir to Jemaah Islamiyah, the terror group said to be seeking to establish a fundamentalist super-state in Southeast Asia. The cleric repeated his claims that the group does not exist and that charges against him had been fabricated by the United States and Israel.

Prosecutors also tried to connect Bashir with Indonesian radical Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, who was arrested in central Thailand last month. Hambali — said to be the operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, and al Qaeda's point-man in Southeast Asia — is now being interrogated by U.S. officials at an undisclosed location.

Bashir, who teaches at a religious boarding school in Central Java, was arrested in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 12 Bali bombings. Last month, a special court in Bali sentenced to death a Muslim radical for his role in the attack on two nightclubs in which 202 people died.

Bashir was not been charged with involvement in the Bali blast or the Marriott bombing, which killed 12 people. But prosecutors maintained that under his leadership, Jemaah Islamiyah plotted to kill Megawati and establish a hardline Islamic regime.

Judges found him guilty of sedition, as well as entering Indonesia illegally in 1999.

"In order that the defendant does not repeat his mistake ... he must be punished," the decision said. "We, the judges, hand down a sentence of four years in prison."

During the trial, defense attorneys challenged prosecutors' use of testimony from suspects held without trial in Singapore and Malaysia under draconian internal security laws.

The attorneys claimed key testimony was obtained through torture, and that the witnesses — who addressed the judges via video-link — should have been brought to Indonesia to speak freely in open court.

"There was not a single proof that Bashir intended to topple the government," Adnan Nasution, Bashir's defense lawyer, said after the trial.

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