Indonesia’s radical cleric to be freed next week

Abu Bakar Bashir (C), the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, walks as he is visited by Yusril Ihza Mahendra (R), the lawyer of Indonesia's presidential re-electionist candidate Joko Widodo, at Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, Indonesia, on January 18, 2019. (Antara Foto/Yulius Satria Wijaya/via REUTERS)
Updated 19 January 2019

Indonesia’s radical cleric to be freed next week

  • Bashir’s lawyers say their client had already served eight years out of his 15-year sentence
  • Bashir was convicted in 2011 of supporting paramilitary training in Aceh

JAKARTA: Abu Bakar Bashir, Indonesia’s Muslim cleric known for his radical religious views and the ideological icon for the 2002 Bali bombers, is to be released from prison next week on health grounds, his lawyers confirmed on Saturday.

Muhammad Mahendradatta, the head of Bashir’s legal team, told journalists at a press conference that Bashir had served eight years out of his 15-year sentence. He said the team had been seeking his early release for the past two years, as his poor health required him to undergo regular medical checkups.

“So this early release didn’t just come out of the blue. This is a legal matter, (not) a gift. It is his right for parole and a normal procedure that has legal grounds,” Mahendrattta said, rebuffing claims that the cleric’s release had any political interests just because it required the approval of the president.

“We are talking about the office of the president. Whoever is sitting in office now would be required to do so,” Mahendradatta said.

Incumbent President Joko Widodo is running for a second term in office on April 17 amid a popular perception that he lacks Islamic credentials and that his regime persecutes the ulemas.

Achmad Michdan, one of Bashir’s lawyer, said the cleric had been eligible for parole by Dec. 13, but he remained in prison as he refused to sign a document for his release that required him to pledge loyalty to the state ideology of Pancasila.

“We understand and respect his views and his refusal to be tied to terrorism,” Michdan said.

According to Widodo’s legal adviser Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who lobbied the president for Bashir’s release, the cleric insisted that he would only be loyal to God, even if that meant that he would have to serve the rest of his sentence.

Mahendra, who is the leader of a minor Islamic political party, said the political gravity of Bashir’s case required the president’s approval to override a regulation that details conditions for the early release of extraordinary offenders, including terrorism offenders. 

“President Jokowi’s consideration to grant the release was based on humanitarian grounds and his respect for the ulemas,” Mahendra said, referring to the president by his nickname.

He added that, as the president’s legal adviser, he had been entrusted by Widodo with taking care of the matter and coordinating accordingly with related ministers and law enforcement agencies.

Mahendradatta said the release would be unconditional from both the government’s and Bashir’s side.

The decision was announced on Friday, after the first presidential debate on Thursday evening, during which Widodo and his opponent Prabowo Subianto and their respective running mates, head of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) Ma’ruf Amin and former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno, presented their visions and programs on law enforcement, human rights, and terrorism.

“The MUI has issued an edict that declares terrorism is not jihad and that it is haram (forbidden in Islam),” Amin said when he spoke in the debate.

Bashir was convicted in 2011 of supporting paramilitary training in Aceh. The cleric is described as the ideological icon of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), including those who carried out bomb attacks in Bali in 2002. Bashir has insisted that he was not rebelling against the country and that he was only collecting money to fund training and travel for those who wanted to go as mujahideen to Palestine.

Bashir could have asked for clemency to get an early release but refused to do so since it would have meant pleading guilty to the charges against him.

In March last year, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the government was weighing up which form of sentence leniency it could give Bashir. Chief security minister Wiranto said the government would move Bashir to a prison near his hometown in Solo, Central Java.

However, Michdan said the plan never materialized and Bashir remained in his isolation cell in Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java.

Five killed as gunman opens fire at Illinois warehouse

Police officers armed with rifles gather at the scene where an active shooter was reported in Aurora, Ill., Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. (AP)
Updated 42 sec ago

Five killed as gunman opens fire at Illinois warehouse

  • Nearly 1,200 children lost their lives to gun violence in the year since and there have been 37 mass shootings

CHICAGO: A gunman opened fire in an industrial area on the outskirts of Chicago Friday, wounding multiple bystanders before he was shot dead by police, officials and reports said.
Witnesses told local media they locked themselves into nearby buildings as a man in his 30s or 40s began firing off rounds at a manufacturing complex in Aurora, Illinois.
Local media reported that the suspected gunman was killed soon after local police and federal agents flooded the area, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of central Chicago.
John Probst, who was in the building as the shooting began but was able to escape, told the local ABC TV affiliate he recognized the gunman as a co-worker.
“What I saw was the guy running down the aisles with a pistol with a laser on it,” he said. “We were just scared.”
The local Daily Herald newspaper said on its website four police officers and “multiple civilians” had been wounded.
“There are unconfirmed reports that at least one civilian is dead,” the paper said, although it wasn’t clear in the immediate aftermath if the fatality was the assailant or another victim.
Aerial TV footage showed dozens of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks at the scene as local officers with shields entered the complex alongside the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Officers urged the public to avoid the area, announcing that they would give further details at a news conference later in the day.
Among the wounded were two patients being treated for “non-life threatening injuries” at a local hospital while several police officers were said to be in stable condition.

Aurora city spokesman Clayton Muhammad told the local CBS TV affiliate less than two hours after the shooting began that “the immediate threat to the community has been neutralized.”
“The officers are in stable condition, those that were injured,” he said, adding that he had no details about wounded civilians.
The CBS affiliate and the Chicago Tribune newspaper said the person killed was the shooter.
Nancy Caal, an employee of a nearby repair workshop, told the Daily Herald she and three others had heard numerous emergency sirens, and so “went and shut the front gate and locked all of the doors.”
The local school district put campuses on lock down.
“No one will be allowed to leave or enter our buildings until the soft lockdown has been lifted,” it posted on Twitter.
The shooting comes just a day after the first anniversary of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student killed 14 students and three staff.
Nearly 1,200 children lost their lives to gun violence in the year since and there have been 37 mass shootings — those with at least four victims, not including the assailant — recorded already in the US this year.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters President Donald Trump had been briefed and was monitoring for news from the latest rampage.
In a presidential message Thursday to mark the Parkland anniversary, Trump recommitted to “ensuring the safety of all Americans.”
“Let us declare together, as Americans, that we will not rest until our schools are secure and our communities are safe,” Trump said.