Indonesia reviewing early release for Bali bombing-linked cleric

Abu Bakar Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2011 for helping fund a paramilitary group training in the conservative Islamic province of Aceh. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2019
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Indonesia reviewing early release for Bali bombing-linked cleric

  • Indonesian president Joko Widodo last week gave the green light for the early release of Abu Bakar Bashir
  • Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2011 for helping fund a paramilitary group

JAKARTA: Plans to free a radical cleric linked to the deadly Bali bombings are under review, Indonesia has said, after the surprise decision drew sharp criticism.
Abu Bakar Bashir was once synonymous with militant Islam in Indonesia and was tied to the terror network behind the 2002 attacks that killed more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists.
Last week, Indonesian president Joko Widodo said he had given the green light for the early release of Bashir — believed to have been a key figure in militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
Widodo said the 80-year-old preacher was “old and sick.”
The plan was slammed both at home and abroad, with objections across Indonesian social media and from Australian leader Scott Morrison, who warned that Bashir was still a threat.
Dozens of Australians were killed in the Bali attacks.
In an apparent backtrack on Monday, Indonesia’s Chief Security Minister Wiranto said the president had ordered a “thorough and comprehensive study” of Bashir’s release from prison.
“We can’t act hastily or spontaneously,” the minister told reporters.
He did not say when a final decision would be made.
Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2011 for helping fund a paramilitary group training in the conservative Islamic province of Aceh.
The firebrand preacher was previously jailed over the Bali bombings but that conviction was quashed on appeal. He has repeatedly denied involvement in terror attacks.
Bashir’s lawyer Achmad Michdan questioned the apparent official change of heart.
“We have no problem with (the review) but people might wonder why would they announce it in the first place,” Michdan said.
Widodo had cited “humanitarian reasons” for agreeing to the release of the elderly preacher, sparking a torrent of criticism on Indonesian social media.
“This whole story is stupid beyond belief,” one Twitter user wrote.
Bashir “murdered hundreds of people. They don’t get to be with their families, but he does?”
The 2002 bombings prompted Jakarta to beef up counter-terror cooperation with the US and Australia.
“We have been very clear about the need to ensure that, as part of our joint counter-terrorism efforts...that Abu Bakar Bashir would not be in any position... to influence or incite anything,” Australia’s Morrison was quoted as saying.
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 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.
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.


New Zealand opens gun buyback after mosque killings

Updated 22 min 38 sec ago
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New Zealand opens gun buyback after mosque killings

  • New Zealand applied stricter gun lows three months after the incident
  • Licensed gun owners have six months to surrender newly outlawed weapons

WELLINGTON: New Zealand opened a gun buyback scheme Thursday aimed at ridding the country of semi-automatic weapons similar to those used in the Christchurch mosque attacks that killed 51 Muslim worshippers.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed in the hours after the March 15 killings that New Zealand’s gun laws would be tightened and her government has expedited the change in just three months.
“The buyback and amnesty has one objective — to remove the most dangerous weapons from circulation following the loss of life at Al-Noor and Linwood mosques,” Police Minister Stuart Nash said.
The Australian man accused of the killings, Brenton Tarrant, is alleged to have used an arsenal of five weapons, including two military style semi-automatic rifles (MSSAs), in the attacks on two Christchurch mosques.
Lawmakers voted to outlaw MSSAs, which allow the rapid fire of high-calibre bullets, by a margin of 119-1 in the wake of the worst massacre in modern New Zealand history.
Licensed firearms owners will have six months to surrender weapons that have now been deemed illegal under the scheme, with an amnesty ensuring they will not face prosecution during that period.
After the amnesty expires, possession of a prohibited firearms is punishable by up to five years in jail.
Compensation will be based on the model and condition of the firearm, with the total cost of the scheme estimated at $143 million.
That includes $11.9 million toward administration costs for what Nash said was “a huge logistical exercise.”
He said police knew of 14,300 registered MSSA rifles and there were an estimated 1.2 million firearms in the community, with the vast majority still legal under the new rules.
Police said they were organizing “collection events” around the country where firearms owners could submit their weapons.
Tarrant last week pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges, as well as 51 counts of murder and 40 of attempted murder.
He was committed to stand trial in May next year.