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Factbox: Indonesia set to free Abu Bakar Bashir, suspected of links to Bali bombings

(Reuters) - Indonesia is set to free Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who served a jail term for setting up a militant training camp and is suspected of links to the Bali bombings and other attacks in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country.

FILE PHOTO: Abu Bakar Bashir (C), the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, walks as he is visited by Yusril Ihza Mahendra (R), who is the lawyer of Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko Widodo, at Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, Indonesia, January 18, 2019. Antara Foto/Yulius Satria Wijaya/via REUTERS

Bashir, 82, who was active in Indonesian extremist circles for decades, is considered the spiritual leader of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network. While analysts say his stature has weakened, they warn militants may try to associate activities with him to gain traction or boost their credibility.

Here are some facts about Bashir.

- Born in 1938 in East Java, Bashir founded the Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school near the city of Solo in the 1970s. Once labelled by the International Crisis Group as the pinacle of JI’s “Ivy League” of schools, it produced a series of graduates linked to militant networks, including a man executed for the Bali bombings.

- He was first jailed in 1979 under the late autocratic President Suharto for agitating to set up an Islamic state.

- In 1985, he fled to Malaysia, where for 14 years he increased his influence among Muslim militants from Southeast Asia and is believed to have co-founded JI before returning to Indonesia after Suharto stood down.

- JI members have been linked to a string of attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings which killed more than 200 people, including 88 Australians.

- Bashir denied involvement in the Bali attacks, although he admitted to being an admirer of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan, and once called the Bali bombers misguided but praiseworthy fighters. He also swore allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014.

- Drawing from operatives trained in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the southern Philippines, JI was blamed for other attacks, including a 2003 attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people and a 2004 Australian embassy bombing that killed nine.

- Although linked to the Bali attacks and the 2003 J.W. Marriott hotel attack, Bashir was never convicted for them and denied those ties.

- In 2011, he was jailed for 15 years for supporting a militant training camp in Aceh province in a trial where he said the verdict was “against Islam” and based on “evil law”. President Joko Widodo in 2019 had considered his early release, citing health concerns, though facing a firestorm of criticism he dropped the plan after Bashir refused to pledge allegiance to Indonesia’s state ideology.

- Now his sentence is complete, Bashir is due to be released on Friday and his son said he would return to the Al-Mukmin boarding school to continue Islamic preaching.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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