JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Abu Bakar Bashir, the militant cleric alleged to be one of Southeast Asia's top terrorist leaders, was freed from prison yesterday after serving 25 months for his role in the bombings of two Bali nightclubs in 2002.
Bashir, 67, smiled and waved to more than 100 supporters who had gathered outside Jakarta's Cipinang Prison to witness his release. "God is great," the crowd shouted as he stepped out of the prison gates.
Bashir, who has denied any role in terrorist activities, signaled that he would use his freedom to promote the adoption of strict Islamic law in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population but is among the most moderate Muslim nations.
"Thank you to God, and also to my lawyers and to my supporters who defended me for all this time," Bashir said before getting into a waiting car. "By implementing Islamic law, people will survive in the world and in the afterlife. This is what we should do."
Authorities have long maintained that Bashir is the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terrorism network with close ties to al-Qaida, but prosecutors have had difficulty proving it in court.
Jemaah Islamiyah, which wants to turn much of Southeast Asia into an Islamic state, is responsible for dozens of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines that have killed 250 people. Over the past three years, the group has become fragmented with the capture or killing of most of its leaders and the arrest of dozens of members. Some Western officials say that Bashir's release could rejuvenate the organization.
Bashir was arrested a week after the Bali nightclub attacks on Oct. 12, 2002, which were partly financed by al-Qaida and carried out by two suicide bombers. He was found guilty in 2003 of treason and immigration violations. But an appeals court threw out the treason conviction and reduced his sentence to 18 months.