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Ba'asyir: We are victorious or we die

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(CNN) -- Abu Bakar Ba'asyir denies the existence of Jemaah Islamiyah, let alone being -- as most authorities claim -- the terror group's spiritual leader.

But, in sentencing the frail, 62-year-old cleric to four years in jail on Tuesday for his involvement in a plot to topple the Indonesian government, the chief judge Muhammad Saleh said Ba'asyir was guilty of taking part in subversion and forgery.

Throughout his trial he maintained his innocence, denying any knowledge of JI and saying he was the victim of a CIA-led conspiracy. (Ba'asyir jailed)

Nonetheless several witnesses appearing at trials relating to the Bali bombings have claimed either links to, or inspiration from, Ba'asyir and JI.

Indonesian prosecutors say Ba'asyir's aim was to destabilize the country of 210 million people, mostly Muslims, as part of JI's goal to overthrow Indonesia's secular government and set up a pan-Asian Islamic state.

Ba'asyir's became a member of the Muslim movement, Darul Islam, in the 1970s. The group waged a fierce armed insurgency in West Java against the central government from 1948-1962 in an attempt to establish an Islamic state.

That insurgency tied down much of the country's military during that period. After the rebellion was put down, the movement went underground.

Ba'asyir was sentenced to jail for his involvement in the group which was then referred by the Indonesian government as Komando Jihad. He fled to Malaysia in 1985 to escape his prison sentence.

In Malaysia, he became a religious teacher and preached the ideology of an Islamic state in Indonesia by waging a jihad, including taking up arms, according to testimonies by former JI members.

While in Malaysia, a split occurred in Darul Islam between 1992-1993. The late Abdullah Sungkar, together with Ba'asyir, left Darul Islam and set up Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), meaning "Muslim brotherhood".

JI's headquarters followed Ba'asyir when he returned to Indonesia in 1999 a year after the ousting of former President Suharto. Its initial aim was to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia.

But as they drew like-minded followers from Malaysia and other parts of the region, the concept of an Islamic super state encompassing southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and southern Philippines was born.

In an exclusive interview, Ba'asyir told CNN's Maria Ressa : "If Islam is attacked, there are only two responses: we are victorious or we die. That is what it means to rise up and defend Islam."

He also said "all of the violence in Indonesia has been engineered by America and Israel. Israel is Islam's strongest enemy, most radical. America is being used by Israel to attack Islam."

Before his arrest in the wake of the October Bali bombings, Ba'asyir was teaching at an Islamic school in Solo, central Java -- the same school attended by some of those believed involved in a string of terror attacks including the Bali blasts.

Ba'asyir is also widely influential among radical Muslims and he has sat on the executive of the Mujahedeen Council, which was formed in Yogyakarta in 2000 as an umbrella group for people wanting to turn Indonesia into an Islamic country.

But Ba'asyir insists, in his words, that he is merely the "knifemaker", and that he cannot be held responsible for how those knives are used.

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