Indonesian Cleric on Trial for Terrorism

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The trial of Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, 72, began Monday in Jakarta. Bashir has been charged with engineering a terror cell to target foreigners and public figures in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Bashir co-founded Jema'ah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda-linked terror organization believed to have carried out suicide bombings over the past 10 years that have killed more than 260 people. Bashir claims the charges against him have been fabricated and all he ever wanted to do "was defend Islam."

This is not the first time he has faced charges, but past indictments did not carry the death penalty. Bashir once spent 26 months in jail for violating immigration laws.

Prosecutors say this time they have sufficient evidence that he founded, funded and armed a new terror cell in western Indonesia's Aceh province, dubbed al-Qaeda Aceh, to carry out terror attacks on Western hotels and embassies. The terrorists also planned to assassinate high-profile political figures, such as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Officials believe the cell carried out several bank robberies last year to fund weapons purchases and attacks on police stations.

"The aim was to spread panic and divide the people and the ruling government, thus paving the way for a takeover," The Associated Press quoted prosecutor Muhammad Taufik as saying.

A heavy police presence guarded the South Jakarta District Court on Sunday as an estimated 2,000 of Bashir's supporters filled the courtroom.

Men in Islamic skull caps and women covered in black burkas with slits to see through interrupted the prosecutor's reading of the 93-page indictment with shouts of "Allah hu Akbar" - "Allah is greater."

Judges adjourned the hearing until next week when Bashir's lawyers will respond to the charges against him.

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AP contributed to this report.

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