Indonesian leader behind 2002 Bali bombings to be freed: Lawyer

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, 80, has served eight years of his 15-year sentence and sought early release on health grounds.

    Ba'asyir's release comes during campaigning for a presidential election due in April [Ed Wray/Getty Images]
    Ba'asyir's release comes during campaigning for a presidential election due in April [Ed Wray/Getty Images]

    A lawyer for the ailing Muslim leader who inspired the 2002 bombings in Bali has said the Indonesian government will release him from prison next week.

    The lawyer, Muhammad Mahendradatta, said on Friday that the decision to release 80-year-old Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, an Indonesian of Yemeni origins, was made on humanitarian grounds.

    The announcement came during the campaigning for a presidential election due in April in which opponents of President Joko Widodo have tried to discredit him as "insufficiently Islamic".

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    "He will be released in the coming days," said Yusril Ihza Mahendra, a presidential adviser for legal affairs.

    "We know Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is frail and he wants to be close to his family."

    The 2002 bombings on the popular Indonesian tourist island of Bali by al-Qaeda group killed 202 people, many of them foreigners, including dozens of Australians.

    Australia had urged Indonesia last March against any leniency towards Ba'asyir when the government was considering house arrest and other forms of clemency.

    Abu Bakar Ba'asyir's supporters raising slogans as he appears in court on February 14, 2011 [File: Getty Images]

    Ba'asyir, who was the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah group responsible for the bombings, was arrested almost immediately after the incident.

    But prosecutors were unable to prove a string of "terrorism"-related allegations. He 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 armed fighters.

    Also due to be released from prison next week is the former governor of Jakarta, a Widodo ally and minority Christian, who was toppled by a conservative Islamic movement in 2016 and subsequently sentenced to two years in prison on blasphemy charges.

    The 2002 bombings were a turning point in Indonesia's battle against armed groups, making heavy security a norm in big cities and forging closer counterterrorism cooperation with the US and Australia.

    SOURCE: News agencies