Bashir withdraws support for ISIS

Jailed cleric had limited knowledge of group and had been misinformed, his lawyer says

JI founder Abu Bakar Bashir changed his mind after a team he sent to Turkey studied ISIS and reported its findings to him.
JI founder Abu Bakar Bashir changed his mind after a team he sent to Turkey studied ISIS and reported its findings to him. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir has pulled his support from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), saying that his knowledge of the extremist group had been limited.

Bashir, 76, Indonesia's most influential militant cleric, had been misinformed, said his lawyer Mr Achmad Michdan, commenting on the cleric's calls in 2014 to his followers to support and fight with ISIS.

"It is understandable for a man inside a prison to be misinformed," Mr Michdan told The Straits Times.

Bashir, the founder of regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah (JI), an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, is serving a 15-year jail sentence for helping to fund a paramilitary training camp in Aceh that police raided in 2010.

Despite the change in his views on ISIS, however, he remained adamant about his long-time wish to impose Islamic syariah law on the entire world, warning that chaos would otherwise ensue.

Bashir recently sent a team to Turkey to meet Syrian Islamic leaders and Turkish non-governmental organisation activists. The team was told that ISIS was not worth their support, Mr Michdan said. Terrorist inmates in Indonesia are allowed to receive and communicate with guests. Inmates have even used mobile phones brought in by guests.

Bashir's team also studied ISIS social media postings and reported its findings to Bashir.

"He no longer thinks the same about ISIS that he had previously had limited knowledge of. He even urged others to be careful about any party, including ISIS, who wishes to tarnish the Islamic fighters," Mr Michdan said.

"He would support the struggle of any Islamic group or organisation to promote the syariah law as long as they are not against the Quran and Hadith," Mr Michdan added.

Bashir has been in the high-security Nusakambangan island prison in Central Java since June 2011.

In August 2014, a photo of Bashir showing his support for ISIS went viral online in Indonesia.

The photo surfaced as counter-terrorism officials warned that Indonesians who join ISIS and fight in Iraq and Syria may lose their citizenship, and reports of Indonesian radicals swearing allegiance to ISIS sparked alarm.

The image shows Bashir sitting on a parquet floor flanked by five men in white Arabic robes. Another seven stand behind them. Most of the men's faces are hidden but the ISIS flag is clearly displayed.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014 proclaimed himself the "caliph" of territories that it controls in Iraq and Syria, and ordered Muslims to obey him. A caliphate is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader, which no longer exists in modern days.

Bashir is scheduled to appear in the Cilacap district court, a 20-minute ferry ride from Nusakambangan,on Tuesday to confirm his civil review appeal challenging the first Supreme Court's appeal ruling in 2012 that raised the Jakarta high court's nine-year-jail sentence for the cleric to 15 years.

Under Indonesia's legal system, people can appeal against a district court's ruling to a high court, then to the Supreme Court. The first appeal in the Supreme Court is called "kasasi" and the second - the final legal avenue - is called "peninjauan kembali" or civil review.

Bashir formed JI in the early 1990s, but the authorities did not detect its existence until 2001. Many of Singapore's JI members studied with the cleric at a school he set up in Ulu Tiram, Johor.

JI planted 20 bombs that went off outside churches across Indonesia, including Batam, on Christmas Eve in 2000. On Oct 12, 2002, the group launched the largest terror attack ever in this region, when two suicide bombers detonated explosives in Bali that killed 202 people and injured dozens of others.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline Bashir withdraws support for ISIS. Subscribe