Indonesia’s top terrorist convict Abu Bakar Bashir released from prison

Abu Bakar Bashir leaving the Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, on the outskirts of Jakarta, on Jan 8, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
Abu Bakar Bashir entering a van to leave the Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, on the outskirts of Jakarta, on Jan 8, 2021. PHOTO: AFP PHOTO / INDONESIA NATIONAL PRISON

JAKARTA - Indonesia's top terrorist convict Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of South-east Asia's terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), was released from prison early yesterday.

The radical cleric, 82, has been in jail since his arrest in 2009. In 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for funding a militant training camp in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh.

The release comes after the usual remission of a sentence for reasons including ill health. Mr Bashir has chronic venous insufficiency, which usually leads to swelling in the legs.

Ms Rika Apriyanti, the Law and Human Rights Ministry spokes-man for prisons, said that Mr Bashir's family and lawyers picked him up at the Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java.

She said he had tested negative for Covid-19, adding that those who met him were required to also show negative Covid-19 test results as part of health protocols instituted amid the pandemic.

Accompanied by his sons Abdul Rochim and Abdul Rosyid, his three lawyers, and a doctor from the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee, the cleric left the prison after morning prayers and went to the Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Ngruki, Sukoharjo, near the Central Java city of Solo.

"There will be no special event (to welcome him)," Mr Hasyim Abdullah, one of the lawyers, told The Straits Times in a text message.

Mr Bashir was the alleged mastermind behind Indonesia's deadliest terrorist attack - the 2002 bombings on the resort island of Bali which killed 202 people. He was never convicted of the attack.

JI, widely believed to have a link with the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, was considered to be behind several attacks, including the JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta in 2003 that killed 12 people.

Reacting to Mr Bashir's release, Ms Thiolina Ferawati Marpaung, a victim of the 2002 Bali bombing, hoped that the authorities would continue to supervise him.

"His movements must be closely watched," the 47-year old, whose eyes were permanently damaged by the bombing, told ST over the phone from Denpasar.

"We don't know what he was thinking while in prison, (whether) it is positive or negative."

Mr Bashir pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014 while in prison.

His long history of militancy can be traced to the early 1980s, when he was accused of agitating people to resist the state ideology Pancasila, and he was later sentenced to nine years in jail.

In 1985, he managed to flee to Malaysia, where he founded JI in the early 1990s.

He radicalised several Malaysians, including bomb experts Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammad Top. Many Singaporean JI members also studied with Mr Bashir at a school in Johor.

In December 2018, Mr Bashir, who is married and has three children, was offered early release by the government on humanitarian grounds due to his deteriorating health.

However, it was on the condition that he had to first pledge allegiance to the country and Pancasila, as is required for all reformed terrorists. He refused the offer.

The National Counter Terrorism Agency's director for law enforcement Eddy Hartono said on Thursday that the deradicalisation of Mr Bashir would continue after his release.

"We hope Abu Bakar Bashir will deliver peaceful and soothing sermons," he was quoted as saying by Kompas TV.

The police have also said that they will monitor his movements.

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