JAKARTA, INDONESIA - The terrorism trial of radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir opened amid high security and soaring religious tensions in Indonesia on Thursday, after a spate of sectarian violence left three dead.
The 72-year-old preacher's hardline supporters surrounded the south Jakarta court as hundreds of heavily armed police stood by to prevent further outbreaks of mob violence that have shaken Indonesia this week.
The world's most populous Muslim-majority country - often praised for its pluralism and tolerance - is still in shock after the gruesome lynching of three members of a minority Islamic sect by an enraged Muslim mob on Sunday.
Two days later another mob of Muslim extremists launched an anti-Christian rampage through the streets of Temanggung, also on the main island of Java, in some of the worst religious violence the country has seen for years.
Wearing his customary white robes and religious garb, Bashir said nothing to his supporters as he entered the courtroom for his third terrorism trial since the 2002 Bali bombings, for which he was jailed and released on appeal.
The trial was quickly adjourned until Monday after the bespectacled cleric's defence team complained that he had not been given the minimum three-days notice to appear in court.
It was a low-key start to what is the biggest test of Indonesia's anti-terrorism laws since the convictions and executions of three Islamic extremists over the Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.
If convicted Bashir could also face the death penalty.
"Abu Bakar Bashir planned and mobilised other people to break Indonesian law by providing firearms, munitions, explosive materials and other dangerous materials to be used to carry out an act of terrorism," according to a copy of the indictment obtained by AFP.
It said "anyone who plans and mobilises others to commit acts of terror" could face the death penalty.
A senior ideologue for the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network blamed for the Bali attacks, Bashir served almost 26 months for conspiracy over the bombings before being cleared of any direct involvement and freed in 2006.
He continued to preach for jihad or "holy war" against the West and set up a new group, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), in 2008 to work for the creation of an Islamic state across much of Southeast Asia.
He insists JAT is not involved in terrorism but police say senior figures in the organisation were providing support to a militant group that was training to carry out Mumbai-style attacks on Western targets and political figures.
The training camp, set up under the leadership of Indonesian bomb maker Dulmatin, one of the region's most wanted terror suspects, was discovered in Aceh province in February last year, triggering a series of raids and arrests.
Dulmatin was killed by police in March and most of the so-called Al-Qaeda in Aceh group's leading lights have been gunned down or arrested.
JAT spokesman Firman told AFP Bashir had been framed by the US government. "All the allegations are a plot by America to get him arrested. He's not a terrorist. He should be freed immediately," he told AFP on Wednesday.