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Australia Says Freeing Jailed Alleged JI Leader Could Incite More Violence

Australian officials hope Indonesia will be able to keep the alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah in jail. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Abu Bakar Bashir could incite more violence if released as scheduled next month.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says that once free, Abu Bakar Bashir would use his "perverted interpretation of Islam" to inspire his followers to overthrow moderate Muslim governments and to attack Western targets.

Mr. Downer says Australia regards Abu Bakar Bashir as a "truly evil man" who should stay in jail. Bashir is accused of leading Jemaah Islamiah, a group that is blamed for the Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people in 2002, many of them Australian tourists.

But the Islamic cleric has always denied any involvement in the attack and has never been directly implicated. Bashir is due to be released in April after spending a year-and-a-half in jail in Jakarta on immigration charges. A conviction for treason was overturned.

Last week, the Supreme Court in the Indonesian capital cut Bashir's three-year sentence in half. Australia hopes that decision - made by a single judge - will be reversed by a full panel of Supreme Court justices.

Mr. Downer says the radical cleric is a dangerous man who does not deserve to be set free. "There is no doubt he is the sort of person who celebrated September 11, who celebrated the Bali bombing, who celebrates the Madrid bombing," he says. "I mean, you can not sink any lower than that."

Australian television this week broadcast an interview with Bashir from his prison cell. He warned that the United States and the countries that supported the war in Iraq, especially Britain and Australia, would be destroyed in the name of Allah.

Bashir blamed last week's bombings in Madrid on Spain's support of the U.S.-led war.

Mr. Downer said those comments were further evidence of Bashir's "dangerous fanaticism in seeking to inspire and justify acts of terrorism."

Australia sent 2,000 troops to Iraq in support of the U.S.-led invasion. More than 800 troops remain in Iraq, and Canberra continues to support Washington's war on terror.