Indonesia to release suspected mastermind of Bali bombings

Abu Bakar Bashir.
Abu Bakar Bashir. Photo credit: Getty

Indonesia is set to release Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir from jail on Friday, the man who was the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings and is among the most notorious extremists in the world's biggest Muslim majority country.

The frail-looking Bashir, 82, who is regarded as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a jihadist network with ties to al Qaeda, was jailed in 2011 for 15 years for his links to a militant training camp in Aceh province.

After receiving periodic reductions in his jail term, Indonesia's law and human rights ministry has said he has now completed his sentence.

Although linked to the Bali attacks that killed 202 people and a 2003 attack on the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Bashir was never convicted for them and denied those ties.

Zulkarnaen, a man believed to be one of the senior-most members of JI and involved in making the bombs for the attacks, was arrested last month.

The Bali bombings killed 88 Australians and the country's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Tuesday Indonesia must ensure Bashir does not incite more violence when he is released.

Thiolina Marpaung, an Indonesian wounded in the 2002 attacks, said she wanted authorities to keep supervising Bashir.

"We don't know what he was doing in prison," she said. "The government has to still assert control over terrorism actors in Indonesia who have been out of jail," she said by telephone.

Bashir pled allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014 while in jail.

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

But other extremist groups have since formed and conducted attacks while only last month police arrested 23 militants, including Zulkarnaen.

Abdul Rohim, Bashir's son, told Reuters his father would return to the Al Mukmin Islamic boarding school near Solo in Central Java province, which Bashir founded in the 1970s and whose graduates in the past have been linked to militant networks and attacks.

"He has completed his term. This is purely over," Rohim said, adding he would conduct Islamic preaching.

Security analysts say that although Bashir does not wield as much power over JI or other groups, he could still influence other militants.

"Bashir is an ideologue, his words will be followed and made examples of," said analyst Stanislaus Riyanta.