Indonesia frees militant leader Abu Bakar Bashir

Image: Widodo via Flickr.

Indonesia freed from prison the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda-linked group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) after serving two-thirds of his 15-year sentence.

Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, was released from Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor on the island of Java before dawn on Friday to prevent his supporters from gathering. He served 11 out of his 15-year-sentence after receiving 55 months of remission time for good behavior.

Bashir was convicted of supporting training camps for fighters in the province of Aceh in 2011 and he was also the ideological inspiration for the bombings in Bali which killed 200 people in 2002.

A report by Al Jazeera quoting a member of JI said that he visited Bashir in prison two months ago and that he appeared in good condition but had trouble remembering the names of his legal team and acquaintances.

Nevertheless, he said that his years behind bars never dampened his ideological effect.

“He still has a strong influence in Indonesia,” Fahirin was quoted as saying ahead of Bashir’s release.

“That’s why the Indonesian government is so scared of him. They are more worried about Bashir than Rizieq because Bashir’s influence is much more situational,” he said, referring to Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, founder of militant group Islamic Defenders Front who is currently imprisoned for incitement of criminal acts and holding mass gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Rizieq’s group unsuccessfully campaigned for Bashir’s release from prison until it was declared banned on December 30 last year.

“One word from him [Bashir] and all his followers will rise up. And he believes in armed jihad,” Fahirin underscored.

In 2019, Indonesian President Joko Widodo was mulling over ordering the release of Bashir, citing his advanced age and declining health. The proposal, however, was met with public outcry, with protesters accusing him of backing militant groups.

Similarly, the clemency plan was scrapped when Bashir allegedly refused to swear allegiance to the Indonesian state ideology known as Pancasila.

Photo by Brookings Institution/Flickr