Alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah freed from prison

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 Abu Bakar Bashir, 68, the accused spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah a militant islamic organisation with links to Al-Qaeda has been released from an Indonesian prison after serving his 25 month sentence.

Bashir was convicted for conspiracy, in connection with the 2002 Bali bombing. Bashir was accused of playing a pivotal role in planning the attack which killed 202 people, 88 of whom were from Australia. The Judges ruled that he was not involved in the attacks, but had approved of it.

Bashir has denied having links to JI or any other militant organisation and has denied all charges against him. He has also condemned the Bali bombing as a "brutal act".

As Bashir was released from Cipinang prison in Jakarta, he was greeted by hundreds of supporters who yelled, "God is great". Bashir gave a brief address to his supporters, thanking Allah for his freedom, vowing to uphold "Islamic sharia (law)" and said Indonesia needed to the law and was shrouded "in darkness".

The Australian government has expressed its disappointment at the release of Mr Bashir. Speaking before the Australian House of Representatives, Prime Minister John Howard said "I want them (the Indonesian government) to understand from me, on behalf of the Government, how extremely disappointed, even distressed, millions of Australians will be at the release of Abu Bakar Bashir," he said.

"Many Australians will see that particular outcome, although a product of the Indonesian justice system, as an extremely disappointing result."

Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer assured the families of those killed in the attacks that the government shares their pain. "We ... accept the decisions of the Indonesian courts, but we are deeply disappointed with that release today and we share the pain with those families that suffered so much as a result of the Bali bombing," Mr Downer said.

The United States has also expressed dismay at Bashir's release. Speaking in Jakarta, US embassy spokesman Max Kwak said, "we were deeply disappointed that a person convicted of a sinister conspiracy was given such a short prison sentence".

Muhammad Hikam, an Indonesian politician claimed Bashir would have got a longer term if Indonesia was given access to Riduan Isamuddin Hambali by the United States who have him imprisoned. Hambali is believed to be mastermind of the Bali bombings and is alleged to have links to Bashir.