Extremist cleric linked to deadly Bali bombings is freed from prison

Extremist cleric linked to the deadly Bali bombings is freed from prison sparking fresh outrage from survivors and loved ones

  • Radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir accused of being behind Bali terrorist attack
  • 2002 nightclub bombings killed more than 200 people, including 88 Australians
  • The now 82-year-old was released from prison on Friday causing grief to victims
  • He was originally sentenced to 15 years in 2011 but the term was later reduced

A radical cleric linked to the deadly Bali bombings has been released from prison on Friday, stirring grief and anger among victims nearly 20 years after Indonesia’s worst terror attack.

Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, is considered the spiritual leader of militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Islamist network responsible for the 2002 Bali terror attack that killed more than 200 people, including 88 Australians. 

He was seen leaving Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java in the early hours on January 8, after completing a jail term for helping fund militant training in the Aceh province.

Indonesian radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir (pictured) is seen leaving Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia on January 8

More than 200 people were killed, including 88 Australians, in the Bali Bombings in October 2002. Pictured, an aerial view of the bomb blast scene as Australian Federal Police join Indonesian counterparts in sifting through the rubble of the bomb blast scene in Kuta, Bali

Originally sentenced to 15 years in 2011, the firebrand preacher’s term was later cut due to regular sentence reductions handed to most prisoners in Indonesia.

Bashir had been previously jailed over the Bali nightclub bombings, but that conviction was quashed on appeal. He has repeatedly denied involvement in the attacks.

Bashir’s lawyers had appealed for his release citing his age and risk of contracting Covid-19 in the Southeast Asian nation’s notoriously overcrowded prison system.

Bashir has refused to renounce his extremist views in exchange for leniency.

Two years ago, plans to grant Bashir early release on humanitarian grounds sparked a backlash at home and in Australia. Dozens of Australians were killed in the Bali attacks and the early release plan was shelved.

His planned release Friday brings back the ‘horror of the memories’ for Jan Laczynski, 51.

Abu Bakar Bashir (pictured leaving prison), 82, is considered the spiritual leader of militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Islamist network responsible for the 2002 Bali terror attack that killed more than 200 people

Survivors of the Bali Bombings say they do not want Bashir released. Pictured, Indonesian police stand guard amongst the debri in Kuta Beach after the bombing of two popular bars in October 2002

Laczynski was drinking with friends at the Sari Club before flying back to Australia. Hours later, five of his friends were among the hundreds killed in the bomb blasts.

‘It hurts me a lot. I wanted to see justice done,’ Laczynski told AFP from Melbourne.

‘There are still people even next week having operations for their burns; people are still suffering.’

Several JI members implicated in the attacks were later executed or killed in confrontations with Indonesian authorities.

The 2002 bombings — and a later attack on the holiday island in 2005 — prompted Jakarta to strengthen co-operation with the US and Australia in counter-terrorism.

Al-Qaeda-linked JI was founded by a handful of exiled Indonesian militants in Malaysia in the 1980s and grew to include cells across Southeast Asia.

As well as the Bali bombings, the extremist group was blamed for a 2003 car bomb at the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta and a suicide car bomb the following year outside the Australian embassy.

Who is Abu Bakar Bashir? 

– Born in 1938 in East Java, Bashir founded the Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school near the city of Solo in the 1970s. Once labelled by the International Crisis Group as the pinnacle of JI’s ‘Ivy League’ of schools, it produced a series of graduates linked to militant networks, including a man executed for the Bali bombings.

– He was first jailed in 1979 under the late autocratic President Suharto for agitating to set up an Islamic state.

– In 1985, he fled to Malaysia, where for 14 years he increased his influence among Muslim militants from Southeast Asia and is believed to have co-founded JI before returning to Indonesia after Suharto stood down.

– JI members have been linked to a string of attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings which killed more than 200 people, including 88 Australians.

– Bashir denied involvement in the Bali attacks, although he admitted to being an admirer of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan, and once called the Bali bombers misguided but praiseworthy fighters. He also swore allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014.

– Drawing from operatives trained in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the southern Philippines, JI was blamed for other attacks, including a 2003 attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people and a 2004 Australian embassy bombing that killed nine.

– Although linked to the Bali attacks and the 2003 J.W. Marriott hotel attack, Bashir was never convicted for them and denied those ties.

– In 2011, he was jailed for 15 years for supporting a militant training camp in Aceh province in a trial where he said the verdict was ‘against Islam’ and based on ‘evil law’. 

– President Joko Widodo in 2019 had considered his early release, citing health concerns, though facing a firestorm of criticism he dropped the plan after Bashir refused to pledge allegiance to Indonesia’s state ideology.

– Now his sentence is complete, Bashir is due to be released on Friday and his son said he would return to the Al-Mukmin boarding school to continue Islamic preaching.

Source: Reuters  

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