Abu Bakar Bashir released from Indonesian jail
The alleged mastermind of the Bali bombings has been released from jail in Indonesia after completing a terror-related sentence.
Notorious cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, was considered the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the South-East Asian Islamist group behind the Bali bombings.
Indonesian authorities confirmed earlier this week the preacher would be released “in accordance with the expiration date and the end of his term”.
In October 2002, a suicide bomber detonated inside the Paddy’s Bar nightclub in Kuta, a tourist hot spot in Bali, before a car bomb exploded across the road seconds later.
The co-ordinated blasts killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, and injured more than 200 others.
Several JI militants were convicted over the bombings, including three that were executed in 2008.
In 2011, Bashir was acquitted of involvement in the attack but found guilty of supporting a jihadi training camp in Aceh.
He was sentenced to 15 years in jail that was reduced to nine years on appeal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Bashir’s release would be “very distressing” for victims of the attack.
“It’s hard, and it’s gut-wrenching, having spent time with the families of those victims, of that terrible bombing,” he told reporters on Friday.
“I still remember that day very vividly, like I’m sure many Australians do.”
Mr Morrison said Australian leaders had consistently called for proportionate punishments for the attack, but sentences were ultimately a matter for Indonesia.
“They have been released consistent with the Indonesian justice system. That doesn’t make it any easier for any Australian to accept that those who are responsible for the murder of Australians would now be free. It’s sometimes not a fair world,” he said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Bashir’s release would mark a “difficult day” for Australia.
“I don’t want to see this promoter of terrorism and violence released ever,” he told reporters on Friday.
“I think this will be a difficult day and my heart goes out to all those who will be doing it tough today.
“The Australian government, I’m sure, is making strong representations to make sure that the closest eye is kept on this bloke to make sure that his activities don’t further the catastrophic human consequences of his ideological position.”
JI has been linked to other atrocities across South-East Asia, including the 2003 bombing of Jakarta’s Marriott Hotel that killed 13 people.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo had touted an early release for Bashir ahead of the 2019 election.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison trod carefully at the time, urging Indonesia to “show great respect for Australia” and ensure Bashir was not able to incite further violence.
But the move, widely seen as an attempt to woo conservative Muslims voters, was scrapped after Bashir refused to pledge allegiance to the Indonesian state.
Last month, Indonesian police confirmed a JI bombmaker linked to the Bali attack had been arrested after more than 17 years on the run.