Abu Bakar Ba’asyir has served eight years of a 15-year sentence for inciting terrorism and funding a para-military training camp in Aceh province. Photo: AFP

Ageing terrorist leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama are both expected to be released from jail within days of each other this week, Ba’asyir six years ahead of schedule and Purnama after serving a near-full two-year term for blasphemy.

Analysts say there is clearly a connection between the two events, coming only three months before the 2019 presidential and legislative elections, and may be a further effort by President Joko Widodo to get Islamic conservatives on his side.

The spiritual founder of the now-shattered Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror network, an al Qaeda affiliate, the frail 80-year-old Ba’asyir has served eight years of a 15-year sentence for inciting terrorism and funding a para-military training camp in Aceh province.

Widodo said he pardoned the toothy cleric on humanitarian grounds, despite his refusal so far to sign a declaration pledging his loyalty to the unitary state of Indonesia, which correction officials suggest is a normal prerequisite.

Ba’asyir has been treated recently for chronic venous insufficiency, a pooling of blood in the legs, but apart from other age-related issues there is nothing to suggest that his medical condition has undergone significant deterioration.

“This has been a long-discussed issue since the beginning of last year,” the president said, acknowledging the role of former justice minister Yusrul Mahendra, who acts as a lawyer for both Ba’asyir and the Widodo election campaign.

Widodo also said he consulted justice ministry officials and National Police chief Gen Tito Karnavian, the former head of the Detachment 88 counter-terrorism unit, which has tracked down hundreds of militants since it was created in  2003.

Karnavian was responsible for arresting Ba’asyir in August 2010, for his role in establishing the Aceh training camp and also planning a fresh wave of attacks against foreign embassies and Jakarta’s national police and Mobile Brigade headquarters.

Purnama received a year-end remission, slicing two months off his scheduled release date. He is expected to spend only a few days in Jakarta before flying to Vancouver at the start of an overseas trip which will last beyond the April 17 elections.

“It’s his decision and if I was in his position I would do the same,” one close confidante told the Asia Times. “He’s calm, he’s more mature and he’s  thought a lot about his past mistakes. He realises there’s a need for introspection in his life.”

Ba’asyir has never felt that need, detested in Australia as the perceived evil mastermind behind the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing — the worst terrorist outrage since 9/11 — which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians.

He was initially convicted of conspiring with the Bali bombers, three of whom were subsequently executed, but that charge was overturned by the Supreme Court 26 months into a 30-month sentence and he left prison in December 2006.

It is not clear when Ba’asyir will walk free from a prison in Bogor, where he was moved in 2016 after serving the first five years of his sentence at the maximum-security Nusakambangan island prison off Central Java’s south coast.

Ba’asyir is now expected to return to Solo in Central Java to live with his family, including two sons, Abdul Rosyid, 44, and Abdul Rahim, 41, who have reportedly persuaded him to renounce his former allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).

‘He’s beyond the sell-by date’

The Government has described his pardon as unconditional, but officials have yet to reveal what restrictions may be placed on his future movements and whether he will be allowed to meet known jihadis.

“He’s beyond the sell-by date, but that doesn’t mean he will stop supporting jihad,” says Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). “It’s likely he will be meeting a stream of well-wishers, including all the extremists on the block.”

Formed in 2008  after the collapse of JI, Ba’asyir’s Jamaah Anshorat Tauhid (JAT) was one of seven different extremist organizations to openly declare their support ISIS when the movement began to expand its caliphate through Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The UN Security Council placed both of Ba’asyir’s sons on its Al Qaeda sanctions list in 2011, the same year the US Treasury Departmment specifically named Abdul Rosyid as recruiter and fundraiser of JAT a newly-designated terrorist organization.

Islamist hardliners have little reason to protest Purnama’s release now that he has served his sentence, especially with one of his persecutors, conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin, running as Widodo’s vice-presidential candidate.

Australia urged Indonesia not to grant leniency for Ba’asyir after his supporters began a push for his early release last year. The move failed to gain any traction, but Mahendra says he kept up a quiet campaign over the past nine months.

The lawyer’s comment that Widodo can now not be accused  of ‘criminalizing’ Muslim clerics has puzzled observers, given the seriousness of the cleric’s crimes and the fact that he was convicted in a court of law.

Amin said recently that he regretted the former Christian-Chinese governor had been sent to prison, but he made it clear that it had been his duty as head of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) to ensure the law followed its course.

Widodo’s aides met with Purnama a month ago to talk about his post-release plans, which will also include a single January 26 television interview that will almost certainly steer well clear of politics and focus on general subjects.

Acknowledging his once-promising political career has ended, Purnama is giving serious thought to becoming a motivational speaker and to accepting an invitation to study public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

He also has some unfinished business of a very different kind. Friends say he intends going ahead with plans to marry the policewoman who served as the bodyguard to his first wife before their divorce last year over her alleged infidelity.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Join the Conversation

24 Comments

  1. Admiring the hard work you put into your website and in depth information you
    provide. It’s awesome to come across a blog every
    once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material.
    Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS
    feeds to my Google account.

  2. Hey! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any trouble with hackers?

    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing months of hard work due to no data backup.

    Do you have any solutions to prevent hackers?

  3. It’s the best time to make some plans for the future and it’s
    time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions.
    Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article.

    I want to read more things about it!

  4. What i do not realize is in fact how you’re not
    really much more neatly-preferred than you may be right now.

    You’re so intelligent. You understand therefore significantly on the subject
    of this subject, produced me in my view imagine
    it from numerous numerous angles. Its like women and men are not involved except it’s one thing to do with Woman gaga!
    Your individual stuffs excellent. All the time handle it up!

  5. Having read this I thought it was rather informative.
    I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this information together.
    I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and posting comments.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

  6. Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I
    guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say,
    I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing.
    Do you have any suggestions for first-time blog writers?
    I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  7. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say
    that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.
    In any case I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very
    soon!

  8. I seriously love your website.. Pleasant colors & theme.
    Did you create this web site yourself? Please reply back as I’m planning to create my own website and want to find out where you got this
    from or just what the theme is named. Thank you!

  9. That is really interesting, You are an overly skilled blogger.

    I’ve joined your feed and look ahead to in search of extra of your wonderful post.
    Additionally, I have shared your site in my social networks

  10. It is appropriate time to make some plans for the longer term and it’s time to be happy.
    I’ve learn this post and if I may I desire to counsel you some fascinating issues or tips.
    Perhaps you can write next articles relating to this article.
    I desire to learn even more issues approximately it!

  11. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any problems of
    plagorism or copyright violation? My site has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it looks like a
    lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my
    permission. Do you know any solutions to help reduce content from being stolen? I’d
    really appreciate it.

  12. Obviously I like your web site, however you need to test the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very silly to inform you. Nevertheless I will definitely come again again!

  13. Heya this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if blogs
    use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding know-how so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *