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US Disappointed Over Impending Release of Indonesian Cleric

The United States is expressing deep disappointment over the planned early release from an Indonesian prison of the alleged leader of the regional militant group Jemaah Islamiyah. Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir has served 25 months in prison for his involvement in the 2002 terrorist bombings in the Indoensian resort of Bali.

The Bali bombings killed more than 200 people, nearly half of them Australian tourists. And the United States has joined Australia in expressing disappointment that the alleged spiritual leader of the group behind the terror attacks is to go free Wednesday after only 25 months in prison.

An Indonesian court last year sentenced radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir to 30 months in prison for conspiracy in the Bali attacks.

More serious terrorism charges were thrown out because judges said prosecutors failed to prove that he had ordered the attacks.

Bashir, 68, is due for release Wednesday because his term was reduced by the amount of time he had spent in pre-trial detention, and a reduction related to Indonesia's 60th independence anniversary last year.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States is deeply disappointed by what it views as the light sentence given to Bashir, though acknowledging the matter ultimately rests with the Indonesian legal system.

"We do not think, and I will read a quote here from the court's decision, that a person convicted of 'a sinister conspiracy to cause a fire or explosion resulting in deaths,' should have received such a light sentence of 30 months," he noted. "That said, it is up to the Indonesians, the Indonesian courts, to interpret their own laws. So ultimately these kinds of decisions rest with Indonesia, the Indonesian people and Indonesian courts."

Bashir spent a number of years in exile in Malaysia in the 1980's, where it is said he began building his regional network of Islamic radicals with ties to al-Qaida.

He has denied the existence of Jemaah Islamiyah and blames his prosecution on pressure on the Jakarta government from the United States and others.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has also expressed disappointment at Bashir's impending release and said he would have liked to see him spend more time in jail.

Downer says Indonesia will be bound by anti-terrorism commitments to the United Nations to, among other things, freeze Bashir's assets and ban him from buying weapons.