Jakarta: Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir on Thursday likened arms training by Muslims as an act as important as praying and fasting. He was speaking here as his trial resumed amid tight security.

He denied leading an Al-Qaeda-style group that was plotting attacks and assassinations in Indonesia. The cleric, who is regarded as a spiritual leader of Islamist militants around the region, is accused of leading a group that was discovered training recruits in Aceh
province last year.
Police jostled with about 200 of the frail 72-year-old's radical supporters who tried to enter the court as he arrived under tight guard amid shouts of "Allahu akbar" (God is greater).

Wearing his usual white robes, skull cap and shawl, the preacher smiled and looked calm as he was escorted through the crowd by members of the elite Detachment 88 anti-terror
police squad.

"I am convinced that based on Islamic sharia (law), the physical and weapons training in a mountainous area in Aceh was an act of worship by Muslims as ordered by God to
deter Muslim enemies," he said, reading from a 90-page defence

He also called the democratically elected government "poisonous" for its failure to outlaw a minority Islamic sect which has suffered from years of persecution and violence at the hands of Islamic extremists.

Bashir could face the death penalty if convicted of the charges, which include leading and financing a terrorist group and supplying illegal weapons.

The so-called Al-Qaeda in Aceh group was planning Mumbai-style attacks using squads of suicide gunmen against Westerners, police and political leaders including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, according to police.

Bashir denies any involvement in terrorism and claims he is being framed by the United States and its allies including Australia and "the Jews".

He is an alleged co-founder of the Jemaah Islamiyah regional terror organisation blamed for multiple attacks including the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people, mainly Western tourists.

Agency inputs