BOGOR, Indonesia – Indonesia released from prison on Friday Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, as authorities said the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings would enter a deradicalisation programme amid concerns over his continued influence in extremist circles.
Bashir was picked up by his family and was being driven to his home in central Java, said a spokeswoman for the corrections directorate general at the law and human rights ministry.
Photographs showed him wearing a white robe, white cap and a face mask as he left the prison in Bogor, south of Jakarta.
“Abu Bakar Bashir was released from Gunung Sindur prison at 5.30am,” spokeswoman Rika Aprianti told reporters, adding that he was healthy on his departure.
Bashir, 82, who is regarded as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a jihadist network with ties to al Qaeda, was imprisoned in 2011 for 15 years for his links to a militant training camp in Aceh province.
After receiving periodic reductions in his jail term, he served 10 years in prison.
Although Indonesian police and Western intelligence agencies say Bashir was linked to the Bali attacks that killed 202 people and a 2003 attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, he was never convicted for them and denied those ties.
Zulkarnaen, a man believed to be one of the most senior 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 this week Indonesia must ensure Bashir does not incite more violence.
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 by telephone. “The government has to still assert control over terrorism actors in Indonesia who have been out of jail.”
Bashir pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014 while in jail.
Eddy Hartono of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency said Bashir would now undergo a de-radicalisation programme.
“We’re hoping Abu Bakar Bashir after he’s free can give peaceful, soothing preachings,” he said in a statement.
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 in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country while only last month police arrested 23 militants, including Zulkarnaen.
Abdul Rohim, Bashir’s son, told Reuters ahead of the release that 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 that 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.
This article was first published in Asia One . All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.