Indonesia reviewing early release for Bashir

JAKARTA (AFP) – 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, once synonymous with militant in Indonesia, was tied to a 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.

This January 12, 2016 file photo shows radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir waving at his supporters after his appeal hearing at the local district court in Cilacap, Central Java, Indonesia. – AP

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 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 told AFP.