The Indonesian government on Thursday opened the retrial of a cleric charged with leading an al Qaeda-linked group and inciting its members to carry out terrorist attacks against U.S. interests.
Prosecutors seek to prove that Abubakar Baasyir, 66, is responsible for last year's suicide bomb attack on the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12 people, most of them Indonesians. The charges were filed under a new anti-terror law, which authorizes the death penalty if he is found guilty.
The government also charged Baasyir with involvement in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. That charge was brought under the nation's criminal code and carries a life sentence.
"I am convinced that I am innocent," Baasyir told reporters calmly before his trial began. "The charges are baseless. All those people who do not agree with the interests of George Bush are called terrorists."
The United States says the white-bearded Baasyir is the leader of Jemaah Islamiah, a group linked to al-Qaeda.
Last year, a court acquitted Baasyir of terror-related charges but sent him to prison for immigration violations. He served 18 months and was detained again upon his release while prosecutors prepared a new case. This time, they said, they have better evidence and a stronger line-up of witnesses, though experts are skeptical.
Baasyir "moved other people to conduct crimes of terrorism by using violence or the threat of violence to create an atmosphere of terror, resulting in mass casualties," prosecutor Salman Maryadi said at the trial, reading from the 65-page indictment.
Prosecutors said that Baasyir motivated members of Jemaah Islamiah with a speech he made in April 2000 at a training camp in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines. Several militants who attended that training camp later took part in the Marriott attack, prosecutors said.
In Mindanao, Baasyir encouraged his followers to wage jihad, or holy war, against the United States and its allies, prosecutors said. He also spoke of meeting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and relayed bin Laden's order to kill Americans and citizens of countries allied with the United States, prosecutors said.
"You have used your charisma as a religious leader, encouraging your followers to attack American interests," Maryadi said, addressing Baasyir. " You also hid information about the potential terror attacks. You knew that there would be attacks, but you remained silent. If you had told us, we could have prevented those acts of terror."
Baasyir has been in custody since shortly after the Bali bombings on Oct. 12, 2002.
To link Baasyir with the Bali attack, prosecutors allege that two months before the explosions, a Jemaah Islamiah member, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, who has since been convicted and sentenced to death, asked Baasyir what he would think if some friends "did an event in Bali." Baasyir allegedly replied, "It's up to you, since you know the situation in the field."
Baasyir, wearing a gray suit jacket over a white tunic, sat facing a five-judge panel as the indictment was read. He occasionally raised a hand to calm scores of supporters, including his wife, daughter and a son, when they objected to the prosecutors' charges.
Another member of the prosecution, Andi Herman, said that the new anti-terror law gave prosecutors more tools to win a conviction. If, for instance, Baasyir knew about a terror plot but failed to inform authorities, he could be held liable for that plot, Herman said.
Baasyir's trial is predicted to run about five months.
Special correspondent Noor Huda Ismail contributed to this report.