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US Disappointed Over Possible Early Release of Muslim Cleric in Indonesia - 2004-03-09


The United States said Tuesday it is very disappointed by the prospect of the early release from prison of Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, alleged spiritual leader of the militant regional group Jemaah Islamiyah. The group is linked to major acts of terrorism including the October 2002 bombings in the tourist resort of Bali.

The Muslim cleric, 65, was acquitted of terrorism charges in a trial that ended last September with conviction on counts of treason, inciting rebellion, immigration violations, and forgery.

But the State Department says there was abundant evidence presented at the trial of his involvement in terrorist activities, and it says the prospect of his early release is very disappointing.

The comments came in response to news reports that the Indonesian Supreme Court had decided to cut Bashir's three year sentence in half and clear the way for his release in April, based on time served from his arrest in October, 2002.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States had received no official notice or rationale for reduction of sentence, but he left no doubt about the Bush administration's displeasure over the pending release:

"There was extensive evidence presented at his trial that described his leadership role, and his personal involvement in terrorist activities," he said. "The murder of innocent men, women and children and other violent acts such as bombings in Indonesia demonstrate that terrorism is a grave threat to the security of Indonesia and her neighbors, and we believe that Indonesia and its government need to stand firm against this threat."

It was the second reduction of sentence for the militant cleric, who denies any link to terrorism. His conviction for treason was earlier overturned by an appeals court, which cut his jail term from four to three years.

He co-founded an Islamic boarding school that produced dozens of young militants including several convicted in the deadly nightclub bombing in Bali, which killed more than 200 people, many of them Australian tourists.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the court decision could breathe new life into Jemaah Islamiyah, though Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, said the action will not affect his country's commitment to fight terrorism.

Jemaah Islamiyah says it seeks to establish a single Islamic state in Southeast Asia. Key members of the group are alleged to have ties to the al-Qaida terror network.