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Pending Release of Accused Jemaah Islamiyah Leader Raises Concerns


Abu Bakar Bashir, the accused spiritual leader of the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, is due to be released from prison soon. A top terrorism expert says his release sends the wrong message to terrorists.

Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is expected to be released in a few days, after completing a prison sentence for his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Western countries view him as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional militant network linked to the al-Qaida group, and he was convicted of being part of the conspiracy behind the bombings on the resort island.

Southeast Asian and Western authorities also blame Jemaah Islamiyah for other terrorist strikes in the region. Bashir denies any wrongdoing, and says Jemaah Islamiyah does not exist.

Bashir's prison term is almost over, and he will be released in a few days. Rohan Gunaratna, of Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, an expert on terrorist groups in Southeast and South Asia, says Bashir's release sends the wrong message to terrorists.

"It will be a huge boost for the jihadists, because Bashir is a leader of a terrorist group that killed 250 people… innocent people," he said. "I think that Bashir's release will send the wrong signal to jihadists, that you can be the head of a terrorist group and you can still be free."

Gunaratna told foreign correspondents in Manila Saturday that freeing Bashir will likely prompt more terrorist actions. He also argued that militant groups will get a political boost.

"Bashir is also the leader of the Majilis Mujahedin Indonesia, or the Mujahedin Council of Indonesia, umbrella organization of jihad groups in Indonesia," he added. "He will mobilize them, he will politicize them. He has the credentials, because he went to prison and he suffered. So, people will join him, people will work with him. That is why he must stay in prison forever."

An Indonesian court last year sentenced Bashir to 30 months in jail for conspiracy in the Bali bombing. That term was reduced because of time he spent in detention and a reduction he received on Indonesia's 60th independence anniversary in 2005.

Gunaratna describes Bashir as the leader of the most dangerous terrorist group in Southeast Asia, because Jemaah Islamiyah is the group closest to al-Qaida.

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