A radical Indonesian cleric accused of masterminding the 2002 Bali bombings was freed from prison on Friday morning, stirring anxiety and grief among victims of the deadly terror attack and prompting fears that he could incite more violence.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, is considered the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the militant group that targeted several nightclubs in the holiday resort of Kuta almost 20 years ago, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians – the largest ever loss of Australian life from an act of terror.
The firebrand preacher was serving a jail term for an unrelated offence of helping to fund militant training in the Southeast Asian nation’s conservative Aceh province.
Convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years, his term was cut due to regular early releases for prisoners in Indonesia and the risks of contracting Covid-19 due to the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons and his age.
Bashir had been previously jailed over the Bali nightclub bombings, but that conviction was quashed on appeal. He has consistently denied all accusations against him, including involvement in the Bali attacks, but he has long been suspected of links to the holiday island atrocity.
Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), told ABC news that when it came to the Bali bombings Bashir “wasn’t the planner, he wasn’t the executor, he had no operational role and he had no role in seeking funding for the action”.
But she added that he had not intervened to prevent it.
“He was in a position, when the bombers came to him to basically ask for his endorsement, to stop it and he didn’t,” she said. “Because of his role as head of the organisation, that was tantamount to a green light. And he could have given a red light.”
Bashir was expected to return to his home town of Solo in Java later on Friday, where Abdul Rohim, his son said he would return to the Al Mukmin Islamic boarding school, which the cleric founded in the 1970s and whose graduates have been connected to militant network and terrorist activities.
Bashir has refused to renounce his extremist views in exchange for leniency. In 2014, he pledged allegiance to the late head of the Islamic State terrorist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Earlier this week, the Australian embassy in Jakarta urged the Indonesian government to ensure that he would be prevented from inciting anyone to carry out future atrocities.
Marisa Payne, the Australian Foreign Minister, acknowledged his release would be “deeply distressing” to the families and friends of the Australians killed in 2002, as well as to hundreds who were injured.
“Australia has always called for those involved to face tough, proportionate and just sentences. Decisions on sentencing are matters for the Indonesian justice system and we respect Indonesia’s sovereignty and the independence of its judiciary,” Ms Payne said.
Jan Laczynski, a Melbourne resident who narrowly escaped the attack but lost five of his friends in the bombing of Kuta’s Sari Club, told AFP the news brought back the “the horror of memories” from that night.
“It hurts me a lot. I wanted to see justice done,” he said. “There are still people even next week having operations for their burns; people are still suffering.” Ends
Radical cleric suspected of masterminding Bali bombings released early from jail The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Telegraph.