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

Mr Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, the spiritual leader of South-east Asia's terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, being escorted out by prison guards yesterday as he left the Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, on the outskirts of Jakarta. The radical cleric had been i
Mr Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, the spiritual leader of South-east Asia's terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, being escorted out by prison guards yesterday as he left the Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, on the outskirts of Jakarta. The radical cleric had been in jail since his arrest in 2009. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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.

  • Indonesia's fight against extremism since Bali attacks

  • Here are some facts about the Bali bombings and Indonesia's efforts to crack down on militants.

    • On Oct 12, 2002, blasts targeting nightspots popular with tourists in Bali's Kuta Beach killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a militant network with ties to Al-Qaeda, was blamed for Indonesia's worst terrorist attack, and three members of the group were later executed for their role in the bombings.

    • JI was also linked to a series of other attacks, including the 2003 bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing, a second round of bombings in Bali in 2005 and another attack on the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotel in 2009.

    • In the wake of the Bali attacks and with backing from Australia and the United States, Indonesia set up an elite anti-terrorist unit called Densus 88 that weakened JI and resulted in scores of suspected militants being arrested or killed.

    • Indonesia has also pioneered deradicalisation schemes for convicted militants, some of whom had trained in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the southern Philippines.

    • As JI has dropped out of the headlines, other groups such as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), inspired by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have increased in prominence and been blamed for new attacks.

    • A resurgence in attacks has also been linked to the hundreds of Indonesians who went to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS before returning home.

    • Police blamed JAD for suicide attacks in 2018 on churches and a police post in the city of Surabaya that killed over 30 people and were carried out by two radicalised families.

    • In the aftermath of these attacks, Indonesia's Parliament approved tougher anti-terrorism laws, including powers to pre-emptively detain suspects for longer and prosecute those who join or recruit for militant groups.

    • Despite JI's fading prominence, Zulkarnaen, a man believed to be one of JI's most senior members and involved in making bombs for its attacks, was arrested last month after avoiding detection for years.

    • Ms Nava Nuraniyah, a researcher on militant Islam studying at the Australian National University, said JI currently appeared less of a risk than ISIS-linked cells for launching attacks. JI was now focused on recruitment, building networks, funding and preparing military capacity, she said. It had also used the Syrian conflict as a way of sending members for training abroad. "JI remains dangerous, but dangerous in the long run," she said. 

    REUTERS

"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 Malay-sians, 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2021, with the headline 'Indonesia's top terrorist convict Abu Bakar Bashir released from prison'. Print Edition | Subscribe