A radical priest linked to the Bali nightclub bombings was released from prison on Friday and outraged grief and anger among the victims nearly two decades after more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed in Indonesia’s worst terrorist attack.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, is seen as the spiritual leader of the Islamist terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), who was responsible for the massive blasts that tore through a couple of packed bars in October 2002.
The firefighter was released after completing an independent jail to help fund militant training in the conservative Aceh province.
But he has long been suspected of being involved in the horrific holiday bombings, which occurred just one year after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
A van with Bashir inside left Gunung Sindur Prison near the capital Jakarta around 1 p.m. 05.30 Friday (2230 GMT Thursday), together with members of Indonesia’s elite host group.
Bashir was expected to return to his hometown, Solo city.
Sentenced to 15 years in 2011, his term was later reduced due to penalty reductions handed over to most prisoners in Indonesia.
Bashir had previously been jailed for bombing the Bali nightclub, but that conviction was overturned on appeal.
He has repeatedly denied involvement and his exact role is still unclear.
“But he had to approve it either directly or indirectly,” said Jakarta-based security analyst Sidney Jones.
The Bali bombings led Jakarta to strengthen cooperation with the United States and Australia in the fight against terrorism.
Indonesian security forces largely dismantled JI in the years following the 2002 attacks and a subsequent bombing in 2005 on the holiday island.
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This has been a sign of the network’s resurgence in recent years, although Bashir’s influence has diminished, says Jones.
“But his release will be welcomed by … former JI supporters, as he is still seen as a leading figure in the radical movement in Indonesia,” she added.
Bashir’s lawyers had appealed his release, citing his age and the risk of getting Covid-19 in the Southeast Asian nation’s notoriously overcrowded prison system.
The priest refused to give up his extremist views in exchange for mildness when the government considered releasing him early two years ago.
The plane was stored after a backlash at home and in Australia, which lost 88 of its citizens in the Bali attacks.
News of Bashir’s release brought back the “horror of memories” for Jan Laczynski, 51.
Laczynski drank with friends at the Sari Club before flying back to Australia. Hours later, five of his friends were among the hundreds killed when a series of large bombs tore through the district.
“It hurts a lot for me. I wanted to see justice done “, Laczynski told AFP earlier from Melbourne.
“There are still people next week who have operations for their burns. people are still suffering. ”
‘Preach His Evil’
Thiolina Ferawati Marpaung suffered permanent eye injuries after being hit by glass from the massive explosions, which also killed many Indonesians and holidaymakers from more than 20 countries.
“His release makes me feel worried,” said the Bali resident.
“I pray (Bashir) will become a better person after he is released … I still hope the authorities will look at him closely.”
Bashir’s son, Abdul Rohim, described his father as a “victim” of extremist ideology, but said the family would try to soften his harsh views.
“It will be difficult to limit who he will meet later, but because we do not want to create the impression that the family has put him back in prison,” the Islamic schoolteacher said.
Laczynski urged the authorities to ensure that Bashir does not get a platform to spread his violent message.
“He has not been changed in prison, if anything he has gotten worse,” the Australian said.
“He will always preach his evil and this evil must stop.”
Several JI members involved in the attacks were later executed or killed in confrontations with Indonesian authorities.
Al-Qaeda-linked JI was founded by a handful of exiled Indonesian militants in neighboring Malaysia in the 1980s and grew to include cells throughout Southeast Asia.
The extremist group has been blamed for other attacks, including a 2003 car bomb at the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta and a suicide bomb next year outside the Australian embassy.