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Indonesia Frees Radical Cleric Linked to 2002 Bali Bombing

Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir sits inside a van as he leaves upon his release from Gunung Sindur Prison in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, Jan. 8, 2021.

Indonesia has freed a radical cleric linked to a terrorist attack on the tourist island of Bali nearly 20 years ago.

More than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed at two nightclubs in October 2002.

Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, known as the spiritual leader of terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah with ties to al-Qaida, left the Gunung Sindur prison near the capital, Jakarta, early Friday morning.

He was escorted by members of Indonesia's elite counterterrorism squad to a van where family members were waiting to pick him up.

Bashir returned to his home in Central Java's Solo city, about 538 kilometers east of Jakarta.

Indonesian authorities said Bashir would enter a “deradicalization program” as they are concerned over his continued influence in extremist circles.

Bashir was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years in prison, not for the Bali bombings for which he had denied any involvement, but for links to a militant training camp in Aceh province.

He served only 10 years because Indonesia grants prisoners sentence reductions on major national and religious holidays, and as well as for illness.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the release of Bashir, who inspired the Bali bombers and other violent extremists, was "gut-wrenching."

“This is very distressing to the friends and families of the Australians, the 88 Australians, who were killed in the Bali bombings of 2002,” Morison said.