Indonesia cleric's release uncertain as gov't starts review

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's government is reviewing the president's decision to release radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the top security minister said Monday, following domestic and international criticism.

The minister, Wiranto, told a hastily called news conference that President Joko Widodo had asked him to coordinate a review of all aspects of the planned release.

Bashir, the spiritual leader of bombers who attacked nightclubs on Bali island and other violent extremists in Indonesia, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011.

Widodo on Friday said he had agreed to release 80-year-old Bashir on humanitarian grounds. The announcement came during campaigning for a presidential election due in April in which opponents of Widodo have tried to discredit him as insufficiently Islamic.

One of the pivotal lobbyists for Bashir's release was Yusril Ihza Mahendra, an adviser to Jokowo's re-election campaign who also heads an up-and-coming Islamic party.

Bashir had previously been considered ineligible for parole because of his refusal to renounce radical beliefs. His family had requested his release since 2017 because of his age and deteriorating health.

"On the basis of humanitarian considerations, the president is very understanding of the family's request," Wiranto said. "However it still needs to be considered by other aspects."

The firebrand cleric was arrested almost immediately after the 2002 Bali bombings. Most of the 202 people killed in the bombings were foreigners, including dozens of Australians, leaving a deep scar on that country.

But prosecutors were unable to prove a string of terrorism-related allegations, and Bashir was instead sentenced to 18 months in prison for immigration violations.

In 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for supporting a military-style training camp for Islamic militants. Bashir, an Indonesian of Yemeni descent, was also a founder of an Islamic boarding school in the central Javanese city of Solo that terrorism experts regarded as a factory for violent extremists.

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