Radical cleric behind Bali bombing to be freed from prison

The firebrand preacher Abu Bakar Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in jail for helping fund a paramilitary group training in the conservative Islamic province of Aceh. (AP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Radical cleric behind Bali bombing to be freed from prison

  • Abu Bakar Bashir is believed to have been a key figure in terror network Jemaah Islamiyah
  • ‘He is old ... and his health condition was also part of the consideration’

JAKARTA: A radical cleric thought to be the spiritual leader of the Bali bombers will be released from prison on medical grounds, Indonesia’s president said Friday.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 80, is believed to have been a key figure in terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which was blamed for the 2002 bombings on the holiday island which killed more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists.
It was Indonesia’s deadliest militant attack and prompted Jakarta to beef up anti-terror cooperation with the US and Australia, which has previously opposed clemency for Bashir.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Friday that he had agreed to order the ailing preacher’s release from a prison on the outskirts of the capital.
“The first reason is humanitarian,” Widodo told reporters.
“He is old ... and his health condition was also part of the consideration.”
Widodo did not say when Bashir would be released, but one of the cleric’s lawyers said it could be as early as next week.
Bashir, speaking from Gunung Sindur prison, welcomed the news.
“If I am released, I’ll praise Allah,” he told reporters, adding he was not hostile to the state.
In 2011, the firebrand preacher — once synonymous with militant Islam in Indonesia — was sentenced to 15 years in jail for helping fund a paramilitary group training in the conservative Islamic province of Aceh.
Bashir, the co-founder of an infamous Islamic boarding school known for producing militants, was jailed after authorities in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country broke up the camp.
Several militants convicted over their involvement in the Bali bombings have been executed while two others, including Malaysian Noordin Mohammed Top, were killed in police raids in 2009 and 2010.
Bashir, who has repeatedly denied involvement in terror attacks, was also previously jailed over the Bali bombings but that conviction was quashed on appeal.
Al-Qaeda-linked JI was founded by a handful of exiled Indonesian militants in Malaysia in the 1980s, and grew to include cells across Southeast Asia.
As well as the 2002 Bali bombings, the radical group was blamed for a deadly 2003 car bomb at the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta and a suicide car bomb the following year outside the Australian embassy.
An anti-terror crackdown weakened some of Indonesia’s most dangerous networks, including Jemaah Islamiyah.
The Daesh group proved to be a potent rallying cry for Indonesia’s radicals, with hundreds traveling to the Middle East to join the militants.
Last year, a wave of deadly suicide bombings at churches and a police post rocked Indonesia’s second biggest city Surabaya.
Those attacks were carried out by families — including children — linked to local extremist network Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, which has pledged allegiance to Daesh.


Pakistan asks UN to help defuse Kashmir tensions with India

Updated 19 February 2019
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Pakistan asks UN to help defuse Kashmir tensions with India

  • A suicide bombing last week in India’s sector of disputed Kashmir region killed at least 41 Indian troops
  • New Delhi has blamed Islamabad and warned of a ‘jaw-breaking response’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign minister appealed to the UN Secretary General on Tuesday to help ease tension with India that has escalated sharply following a suicide bomb attack in the Indian part of disputed Kashmir, that India blamed on Pakistan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing an election by May, has warned Pakistan to expect a “strong response” to the bombing claimed by a Pakistan-linked militant group, raising fears of conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

“It is with a sense of urgency that I draw your attention to the deteriorating security situation in our region resulting from the threat of use of force against Pakistan by India,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wrote to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“It is imperative to take steps for de-escalation. The United Nations must step in to defuse tensions,” he wrote, blaming India for deliberately ratcheting up its hostile rhetoric for domestic political reasons.

The Pakistani appeal follows days of rising tension between the old rivals after a suicide bomber blew himself up near an Indian police convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday, killing at least 40 paramilitary police.

Jaish-e Mohammad, a militant group said to be based in Pakistan which wants the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir to be part of Pakistan, claimed responsibility but the Pakistani government has denied any involvement.

“Attributing it to Pakistan even before investigations is absurd,” Qureshi said.

“India must be asked to conduct an open and credible investigation on Pulwama incident,” he said.

Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, a former princely state on the border between India and Pakistan, has been in dispute since the partition of India in 1947.

Control is split between the two countries but each claims the region in full.

The neighbors have fought three wars since 1947, two of them over Kashmir. They have fought countless skirmishes along their de facto border, which the United Nations monitors, in the Himalayan region.