Indonesia frees radical cleric linked to Bali bombings, which killed 202

Beawiharta: Reuters

Abu Bakar Bashir, the accused mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, was released from prison on Friday, January 8, after serving a ten-year sentence for establishing a militant training camp.

Authorities announced that Bashir, 82, who was never convicted for a direct role in the Bali bombings, will attend a deradicalization program due to worries about his continued influence in extremist circles.

Bashir was picked up by his family and driven to his home in central Java, according to a spokesman for the law and human rights ministry’s prisons directorate general.

As he left the prison in Bogor, south of Jakarta, he was photographed wearing a white robe, a white hat, and a face mask.

“Abu Bakar Bashir was released from Gunung Sindur prison at 5.30 am,” spokeswoman Rika Aprianti said, adding that he was in good health when he left.

Bashir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a jihadist network with ties to al Qaeda, was imprisoned in 2011 for 15 years for his connections to a terrorist training camp in Aceh province.

He was sentenced to ten years in prison after receiving periodic reductions in his sentence.

Although Indonesian police and security agencies have linked Bashir to the 2002 Bali attacks and a 2003 attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, he has never been convicted for direct involvement and has denied any ties.

A conviction for being a member of a plot to carry out the Bali bombings was later reversed.

Zulkarnaen, a guy thought to be one of the most senior members of JI and engaged in the creation of the bombs used in the Bali attacks, was apprehended last month.

The Bali bombings murdered 88 Australians, and Australia has pressured Indonesia to ensure that Bashir does not encourage further bloodshed.

At a news conference on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Bashir’s release was “very distressing to the friends and families of the Australians, the 88 Australians, who were killed in the Bali bombings of 2002.” Thiolina Marpaung, an Indonesian injured in the 2002 assaults, said she wished police would continue to monitor Bashir.

“We don’t know what he was doing in prison,” she said by telephone. “The government has to still assert control over terrorism actors in Indonesia who have been out of jail.”

While imprisoned in 2014, Bashir declared allegiance to the Islamic State.

According to Eddy Hartono of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency, Bashir will now go through a deradicalization program.

“We’re hoping Abu Bakar Bashir after he’s free, can give peaceful, soothing preachings,” he said in a statement.

Following the Bali assaults, and with the support of Australia and the United States, Indonesia established an elite anti-terrorist unit, which crippled JI and resulted in the arrest or killing of scores of suspected militants.

Other extremist groups have subsequently emerged and carried out assaults in the world’s largest Muslim majority country, and authorities detained 23 terrorists, including Zulkarnaen, just last month.

Before the release, Abdul Rohim, Bashir’s son, told Reuters that his father will return to the Al Mukmin Islamic boarding school near Solo in Central Java province, which Bashir founded in the 1970s and whose graduates had previously been linked to terrorist networks and assaults.

“He has completed his term. This is purely over,” Rohim said.

A representative for the institution, Endro Harsono, said he hoped Bashir would continue preaching since his sermons “strengthen our faith.”

According to observers, JI’s popularity is diminishing, with other Islamic State-inspired groups being blamed for fresh acts taking its place.

According to security analysts, Bashir does not wield as much power over the JI or other terrorist groups, but he may still influence other militants.

“Bashir is an ideologue. His words will be followed and made examples of,” said analyst Stanislaus Riyanta.

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