Anthony Galloway and Stanley Widianto – Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne says the release of the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, Abu Bakar Bashir, will be deeply distressing to the families and friends of Australians killed in the terrorist attacks.
The Australian embassy in Jakarta has raised its concerns with the Indonesian government, saying authorities need to ensure that Bashir and other released terrorists are prevented from inciting other individuals to carry out future atrocities.
The Indonesian government announced on Monday that the radical cleric would be released from prison later this week upon completion of his jail term.
Bashir, 82, who was among Indonesia's most notorious extremists, is considered the spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah network. He was jailed in 2011 for his links to militant training camps in Aceh province.
Senator Payne said the government understood the news was "deeply distressing to the families and friends of the 88 Australians killed in 2002 and the four killed in 2005 in Bali, as well as the many who were injured in these horrific terrorist attacks".
"Australia has always called for those involved to face tough, proportionate and just sentences. Decisions on sentencing are matters for the Indonesian justice system and we respect Indonesia's sovereignty and the independence of its judiciary," Senator Payne said.
"Our embassy in Jakarta has made clear our concerns that such individuals be prevented from further inciting others to carry out future attacks against innocent civilians.
"Australian law enforcement and security agencies have had excellent co-operation with their Indonesian counterparts for many years and we have confidence in Indonesia's counter-terrorism capabilities."
Bashir will be released on Friday "in accordance with the expiration date and the end of his term," Rika Aprianti, spokeswoman for the corrections directorate-general at the Law and Human Rights Ministry, said in a statement.
Jemaah Islamiah is accused of plotting several big attacks in Indonesia and includes operatives trained in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the southern Philippines.
Its members are accused of orchestrating the 2002 bombings of Bali nightclubs, which killed more than 200 people, among them scores of Australians, and an attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people a year later.
A senior JI operative believed to have made bombs for both attacks, Zulkarnaen, was among 23 suspected militants arrested last month.
Bashir denied any involvement in the Bali bombings. A lawyer for him did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his upcoming release.
Security analyst Ridlwan Habib said that though Bashir's stature has weakened, extremists may try to associate their activities with him to gain traction and boost their credibility.
"Bashir is a senior figure in Indonesia's jihadist movement, and it's not impossible that his big name could be used," he said
While seeking re-election, President Joko Widodo in January 2019 had considered an early release for Bashir on health grounds, but scrapped the plan after Bashir reportedly declined to pledge allegiance to the Indonesian state ideology.
It is not known if Bashir has agreed to pledge allegiance ahead of Friday's release.
Last week, Indonesia outlawed the Islamic Defenders Front, a separate controversial but politically influential hardline group, following the return of its spiritual figurehead Rizieq Shihab from three years' exile in Saudi Arabia.
– With Reuters