P. S. Suryanarayana
SINGAPORE: An imprisoned Islamic cleric, Abu Bakar Baasyir, was set free by the Indonesian authorities in Jakarta on Wednesday. Mr. Baasyir, who was convicted for his role in "a sinister conspiracy to cause a fire or explosion resulting in deaths," was released after he completed his prison term that was reduced to about 26 months from 30.
Mr. Baasyir is generally deemed to be the spiritual mentor of Jemaah Islamiah, which is regarded by several Southeast Asian Governments as the regional affiliate of Al-Qaeda.
Soon after his release, which "disappointed" Australia and the United States in particular, Mr. Baasyir pledged to continue his efforts to strengthen Islamic fraternity and uphold Sharia laws.
Tried but not convicted of sponsoring or committing any terrorist act, he was sentenced for his indirect role in the Bali bombings of 2002, which killed over 200 persons including scores of Australian nationals who were holidaying in the island resort.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in Canberra that the release was "extremely disappointing, even distressing" to the Australians. However, both Mr. Howard and a U.S. official, who emphasised that Mr. Baasyir was given a "light sentence," conceded Indonesia's right to act as it deemed fit under its laws.
AP report: Wearing his trademark white skullcap and checked shawl, a smiling Mr. Baasyir said as he emerged from the prison: ``Let us strengthen Islamic brotherhood. We strengthen our unity for one aim that is Islamic Sharia (law)''.
He was given a hero's welcome by around 150 cheering supporters outside the prison.
``We are ready to defend him till the end,'' said Aep Suherman (37), a member of Baasyir's Indonesian Mujahidin Council. But across from the prison, bread seller Chairudin said: ``He's too extreme. I am afraid to see so many people here today. I'm afraid of chaos.''
The preacher immediately set off for the boarding school he founded in central Java province, which is notorious for spawning many of Indonesia's most deadly terrorists.
``The United States is a state terrorist because it is waging war against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan,'' he told reporters when asked about U.S. accusations he was a key Southeast Asian terror leader.
Mr. Baasyir made the remark to reporters after he stopped for midday prayers in the town of Tegal, 300 km east of Jakarta.