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.


Mali sacks senior army officers, dissolves militia after massacre

Updated 1 min 38 sec ago
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Mali sacks senior army officers, dissolves militia after massacre

  • At least 136 men, women and children were killed in the attack, according to a “provisional toll,” public television ORTM said late Sunday
BAMAKO: Mali’s government on Sunday announced the sacking of senior military officers and the dissolution of an ethnic militia, a day after the massacre of more than 130 Fulani villagers, including women and children.
Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said new military chiefs would be named, and that the Dan Nan Ambassagou association, composed of Dogon hunters, had been dissolved.
The dissolution of the militia was to send a clear message, Maiga told journalists: “The protection of the population will remain the monopoly of the state.”
Survivors of Saturday’s attack said ethnic Dogon hunters carried out the deadly raid in Ogossagou, a village in central Mali inhabited by the Fulani community.
While local attacks are fueled by accusations of Fulani herders grazing cattle on Dogon land and disputes over access to land and water, the area is also troubled by jihadist influence.
Maiga did not name the senior officers sacked, but defense ministry sources told AFP they were the Armed Forces Chief of General Staff M’Bemba Moussa Keita, and chiefs of the army and the air force.
The prime minister’s announcement came hours after an emergency meeting called by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in response to Saturday’s massacre.
At least 136 men, women and children were killed in the attack, according to a “provisional toll,” public television ORTM said late Sunday.
The television showed images of burned huts and livestock and shell casings in the village.
The victims were shot or hacked to death with machetes, a security source told AFP.
A government delegation led by Justice Minister Tiena Coulibaly went to the site of the massacre Sunday.
They were sent by the president to “tell the people of Ogossagou that what happened here is unacceptable and that it will not go unpunished,” Coulibaly said.

The UN Children’s Fund said “Malian children are paying a heavy price for the intensification of violence.”
“Growing insecurity since 2017 has led to an increase in murders, mutilations and the recruitment of children,” UNICEF said.
For its part, the European Union called for “immediate steps (including) the disarmament and dismantling of all militias” in Mali.
Researcher Baba Dakono of the Bamako-based Institute for Security Studies told AFP the attack was “unprecedented” but “predictable” because of a weak state presence in the region.
It was the deadliest attack since the end of the 2013 French-led military intervention that drove back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali.

The massacre took place as a delegation from the UN Security Council visited the Sahel region to assess the jihadist threat.
“The secretary general is shocked and outraged” by the bloodshed, Antonio Guterres’s spokesman said in a statement late Saturday.
The UN chief called on the Malian authorities “to swiftly investigate it and bring the perpetrators to justice,” the statement added.
Guterres’s spokesman said the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, provided air support to deter further attacks and assisted with the evacuation of the injured.
The attack was launched at dawn on Saturday in the village near the border with Burkina Faso, in a district that has seen frequent inter-communal violence.
Jihadist fighters have also emerged as a threat in central Mali in the past four years. A group led by radical Islamist preacher Amadou Koufa has recruited mainly from the Fulani community.
Since then, there have been repeated clashes between the Fulani and Dogon and last year the violence claimed some 500 civilian lives, according to UN figures.
In January, Dogon hunters were blamed for the killing of 37 people in another Fulani village, Koulogon, in the same region.
The Fulani have repeatedly called for more protection from the authorities. The government in Bamako has denied their accusations that it turns a blind eye to — or even encourages — Dogon attacks on the Fulani.
Once considered a beacon of democracy and stability in Africa, Mali in recent years has been dogged by a coup, civil war and Islamist terrorism.
Extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north in early 2012, but were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
In June 2015, Mali’s government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups, but the jihadists remain active, and large tracts of the country remain lawless,
The violence persists despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, a strong French military contingent and the creation of a five-nation military force in the region.