Australians distressed by release of Indonesian cleric linked to Bali bombing

(Reuters) – Families of 88 Australians killed in the 2002 Bali bombing will be distressed by the early release from prison on Friday of the Indonesian Islamic cleric suspected to be the mastermind of the attack, said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Abu Bakar Bashir walked free from prison after serving 10 years of a 15-year sentence for establishing a militant training camp.

Indonesian police and Western intelligence agencies say Bashir was linked to the Bali attack, which killed 202 people, but he was never convicted of direct responsibility and denied those ties.

“It’s still raw. All of these years later. Still very raw,” said Morrison, adding Bashir’s release was distressing to families of victims and warned he must be closely monitored.

The 82-year-old cleric was released into the care of his family in Central Java and will undergo an anti-terrorism deradicalisation programme.

Australia has always called for those involved in the Bali attack to face tougher, proportionate and just sentences, Morrison said, adding that sentencing decisions were however matters for the Indonesian justice system and must be respected.

“We have made clear through our embassy in Jakarta the concerns we have that such individuals be prevented from further inciting others,” he said.

For members of Sydney’s Coogee Dolphins amateur rugby club, which lost its president and five members in the Bali attack, Bashir’s release will be a difficult, spokesman Albert Talarico told Reuters.

“Some will never forgive, there will be others who will be just angry today,” said Talarico, who became club president in 2003 and 2004, after president Clint Thompson was killed.

“Others will stay silent because they don’t wish to have the old wounds opened again.”

Phil Britten, who was badly burned across 40% of his body, is concerned Bashir will be “going back into society and doing what he’s always done”, radicalise others.

“Over the years you have to learn to let go and let people deal with those matters,” Britten told Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

“If I waste my time, anger and emotions on things that I can’t change, I’m not living my best life for my family.”Bashir is regarded as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a jihadist network with ties to al Qaeda.

Zulkarnaen, a man believed to be one of the most senior members of JI and involved in making the bombs for the Bali attacks, was arrested in Indonesia last month.