Jakarta: Indonesian militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was jailed for 15 years on Thursday for helping plan a paramilitary group that aimed to kill the country`s president, a sentence that could inflame hardcore Islamists who have vowed revenge.
Jailing Bashir is an important step in the government`s efforts to weaken terror groups, but may not reduce the threat of attacks in a country with the world`s largest Muslim community as others seek to push an Islamist agenda.
Bashir denies involvement with the training camp but repeatedly defends it as legal under Islam. Before entering the court he told reporters the trial is an attempt by the U.S. and Australia "to eliminate me from Indonesia."
Nearly 3,200 police and soldiers, including snipers, have been deployed to secure the court and surrounding area.
Threats of a bombing campaign in 36 locations across Indonesia to coincide with the verdict have been spread by Twitter and text messages.
"We came here to show our support and solidarity, we`ve no intention to do anything against the law. I believe Bashir just wants to fight for the truth," said Rachim, 24, a supporter from Bashir`s hometown Solo, where the cleric also has an Islamic school.
Militants linked by police to Bashir`s group Jema`ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) have been involved in recent shootouts with police and a suicide bombing at a police mosque in Java, leading analysts to conclude they are changing tactics from focusing on Western targets to attacking local institutions.
Police say Bashir was also the spiritual leader of regional group Jemaah Islamiah, blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people, many of them foreigners.
This was the third attempt to try the white-bearded cleric on terror charges. Previous trials only kept him briefly behind bars for other crimes such as immigration offences.
The cleric had denied his involvement in the training camp based in Aceh province, which is governed by Islamic law.
"We are here to pray for the judges and prosecutors," said one of Bashir`s supporters at the court, wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.
"If there is no repentance from them, may God give them bitter pain on earth and in the afterlife."