Radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was convicted in 2011 of running a terror camp in the Aceh province of Indonesia. On Tuesday, he appealed his 15-year prison sentence without actually denying that he broke the law. Instead, he argued that his actions were justified because he was obeying Allah’s orders.
Bashir, 77, is the head and co-founder of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group, originally an al-Qaeda affiliate. It was credited with carrying out a number of high-profile terrorist attacks, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing that killed over 200 people. Much of Jemaah Islamiyah’s early muscle was provided by mujahadeen returning from the battlefields of Afghanistan.
Jemaah Islamiyah’s allegiance has lately shifted to the Islamic State, with Bashir’s July 2014 pledge of fealty to ISIS considered a watershed moment of Indonesian legitimacy for the “caliphate.” The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Bashir was actually able to set up a formal ceremony with two dozen other inmates at the high-security island prison of Nusakambangan, and swear allegiance beneath the black flag of ISIS.
Bashir’s appeal was filed at district court in Cilacap, which is the closest town to the Nusakembangan prison.
“He neither confirmed nor denied planning terror attacks, only saying the camp was meant to defend Islam and Muslims,” reports the Associated Press. “He acknowledged that the military-style training camp in Aceh violated the law on firearms but that he was obeying God’s orders in supporting the camp.”
“My deed of helping the physical training in Aceh was merely an act of worship,” the cleric explained, as quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald. He went on to charge that “the police and prosecutor are insulting Allah, the prophet, because they are labelling training to defend Islam as an act of terror,” he said.
“After I reviewed the Koran, I understood that the physical and weapons training in Aceh was intended to fight for Islam… that the training is part of an Islamic duty that needs to be carried out by Muslims, because Allah orders it,” Bashir added.
For good measure, he threatened the prosecutors and judges with “unimaginable pain in hell” for daring to interfere with the activities of holy warriors such as himself.
“Before you die, repent, don’t relax and smile while enjoying the small salary you make from the infidel and the assisting dollars given by the American pharaohs,” he scowled.
Bashir and his lawyer also argued that he was attempting to raise money to aid Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. His lawyer admitted much of this aid was meant to provide military training and weapons for Palestinians.
The AP describes a strong show of support for Bashir outside the courthouse, with hundreds of his followers chanting “Ahhalu akbar!” and demanding his freedom. The police countered with some 1,000 officers to secure the court and nearby buildings, even closing a nearby school as a precaution.
Court was adjourned after Bashir read out his appeal, with hearings scheduled to resume in two weeks.