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The Jakarta Post

The Jakarta Post, June 07, 2006

Ba'asyir to be set free next week

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Elderly cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir will be released next week after spending two and a half years in prison for his role in the first Bali bombings in 2002, the justice minister announced here Tuesday.

"Based on his legal process, the due date is June 14. This is strictly according to the law. There are no strings attached whatsoever. (Ba'asyir) received remissions several times and is about to complete his jail term by that date," Hamid Awaluddin said.

Hamid made the announcement at the presidential office in Jakarta, where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to discuss terrorism and defense cooperation.

Hamid said the 68-year-old would be free to leave the country as long as there was no longer travel ban imposed on him.

Ba'asyir's lawyer Mahendradatta confirmed his client would return home after his release next week so that he can resume his teachings at Ngruki Islamic boarding school in Surakarta, Central Java.

Ba'asyir, the alleged spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-linked militant group Jamaah Islamiyah, helped found the school more than three decades ago. Many of Indonesia's convicted terrorists attended the school.

Ba'asyir, who has denied any involvement in terror acts, was imprisoned for 30 months for conspiracy in the Bali nightclub blasts in which more than 200 people were killed.

Several months were cut from his sentence for good behavior.

Ba'asyir plans to return to Surakarta, so he "can get medical attention and teach again at Ngruki," Mahendradatta told The Associated Press.

Mahendradatta said he hoped the government would not bow to foreign pressure by finding another excuse to keep his client behind bars.

Ba'asyir's assistant Hasyim accused the U.S. and Australian governments of meddling in the matter. "It is clear that a so-called superpower is behind the cleric's imprisonment," he said Tuesday.

Australia, which lost 88 citizens in the Bali blasts, has said repeatedly that the original sentence was too short.

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