Radical cleric linked to 2002 Bali bombings freed after 10 years in jail

JAKARTA, Indonesia – A chaplain who launched Bali bombings and other attacks was released from an Indonesian prison on Friday after completing his sentence for funding the training of Islamic militants.

Police said they will be monitoring the activities of Abu Bakar Bashir, who is 82 years old and ill. His son said Bashir would avoid activities outside his home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The slim, white-bearded Bashir, an Indonesian of Yemeni descent, was the spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah network behind the 2002 bombings on the tourist island of Bali, in which 202 people were killed, mostly foreign tourists, including 88 Australians. left a deep scar on this land.

Bashir was jailed in 2011 for connections to a militant training camp in the religiously conservative province of Aceh. He was convicted of funding the military camp to train Islamic militants and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

He received a total of 55 months of reduced sentences, which prisoners are often given on major holidays, said Rika Aprianti, spokeswoman for the Justice Department’s correction department.

“He will be released when his sentence ends,” said Aprianti.

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Bashir, wearing a white robe and mask, was escorted by the National Police Counter-Terrorism Force known as Densus 88 as he departed at dawn from Gunung Sindur Prison in the city of Bogor, West Java, Bashir’s son, Abdul Rohim, told The Associated Press.

He said the family, lawyers, and a medical team escorted Bashir to his home at the Islamic boarding school that he co-founded in Solo City, about 335 miles east of the capital Jakarta.

Rohim said the family had agreed with authorities not to hold ceremonies to welcome Bashir.

“I just want to protect my father from the crowds during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Rohim. “He will just rest and gather with his family until the outbreak ends. There will certainly be no other activity for him.”

Head boy Endro Sudarsono said no welcome events were held because “we agreed with authorities to keep a large crowd out to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.”

Abu Bakar Bashir waves when he arrives at Al Mukmin boarding school in Sukoharjo, Indonesia on Thursday. Antara Photo / Reuters

Police removed five large welcome banners and dozens of smaller posters to attract people, and replaced them with a single banner announcing that there would be no celebrations.

National Police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan said the police would monitor Bashir’s activities.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Bashir’s release a “stomach ache” and said the government had long called for tougher sentences against those behind the bombings.

“Sentencing decisions … as we know, are matters of the Indonesian judicial system and we must respect the decisions they make,” Morrison said Friday.

He said that while Bashir’s release was in line with the Indonesian judicial system, “It doesn’t make it easier for any Australian to accept this … ultimately those responsible for the murder of Australians would be free now. It is sometimes.” no fair world. And that’s one of the hardest things to deal with. “

The Indonesian authorities had tried to prove Bashir’s involvement in the Bali bombings and had fought several battles to maintain convictions on other charges. Prosecutors failed to prove a number of terrorism-related allegations, a high treason conviction was overturned and a penalty for a forgery conviction was considered light.

After his release from prison in 2004, he was arrested and again accused of leading Jemaah Islamiyah and blessing the Bali bombings. A court released him from leading the group but sentenced him to 30 months in prison for conspiracy in the bombings.

After his release in 2006, he resumed teaching at the Al-Mukmin boarding school, which he co-founded in 1972, and toured the country with fiery sermons.

The school became a militant production line under Bashir’s influence, radicalizing a generation of students. Many later terrorized Indonesia with bombings and attacks aimed at an Islamic caliphate, and destroyed the country’s reputation for tolerance.

In speeches, Bashir said that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and three militants sentenced to death for the bombings in Bali were not terrorists but “soldiers in Allah’s army”.

A court banned Jemaah Islamiyah in 2008 and the group was weakened by continued crackdown on militants by Indonesian counter-terrorism police with the support of the US and Australia.

Bashir was transferred to Gunung Sindur Prison from isolation on a prison island in 2016 for reasons of age and health, and was hospitalized several times because of his deteriorating health.

President Joko Widodo almost applied for early release on humanitarian grounds in 2019, but withdrew after protests by the Australian government and relatives of the victims of the Bali bombings.

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