Abu Bakar Bashir is a U.S.-designated Indonesian Islamist cleric and founder of two designated Indonesia-based terrorist organizations.Samuel Rubenfeld, “US Sanctions Indonesian Group, Leaders,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2012, https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/BL-CCB-5950?responsive=y. In 1993, Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar established Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which has links to al-Qaeda and carried out the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings.“Timeline: Attacks and plots blamed on Jemaah Islamiah in Asia,” Reuters, September 17, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/09/17/us-indonesia-militants-timeline-sb-idUSTRE58G29X20090917. In 2008, Bashir broke from JI and established a separate group, Jemmah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), which has since been implicated in several terrorist attacks.“JEMMAH ANSHORUT TAUHID (JAT),” United Nations Security Council, July 17, 2018, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/entity/jemmah-anshorut-tauhid. He is currently serving a 15-year sentence for propagating terrorism, at the Pasir Putih prison in Nusakambangan, an island near the coast of Cilacap, Central Java.Witular, Rendi A. “Abu Bakar Ba’asyir calls on followers to support ISIL.” The Jakarta Post, July 14, 2014. http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/07/14/abu-bakar-ba-asyir-calls-followers-support-isil.html. In July 2014, Bashir pledged allegiance to ISIS during a meeting with his followers in prison.“The Re-emergence of Jemaah Islamiyah,” Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, April 27, 2017, 1, http://file.understandingconflict.org/file/2017/04/IPAC_Report_36.pdf. Nonetheless, Bashir was released from prison on January 8, 2021, after having accumulated 55 months of sentence reductions for good behavior, Islamic holidays, and other reductions.Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono, “Muslim Cleric Tied to Bali Nightclub Bombing Is Freed From Prison,” New York Times, January 7, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/world/asia/Abu-Bakar-Bashir-bali-bombing-freed.html; Agence France-Presse, “Indonesia set to free Bali bombing-linked cleric Bashir,” France 24, January 1, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210104-indonesia-set-to-free-bali-bombing-linked-cleric-bashir.
Bashir was born in 1938 in Indonesia’s East Java province to parents of Yemeni descent. Unlike Osama bin Laden he did not come from a family of distinction and did not receive a cosmopolitan education. He attended a well-known modernist Islamic boarding school, or pesantren, from 1959-1963 and graduated from the Al-Irsyad University in Central Java. Bashir began preaching at an early age.“Abu Bakar Bashir: Timeline of extremism.” ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), October 26, 2011. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-06-16/abu-bakar-bashir-timeline-of-extremism/2760374.
Bashir became one of the more prominent radicals, espousing strict sharia (Islamic law) in the 1970s. He has consistently preached that Islamic communities are a necessary precondition for establishment of an Islamic caliphate. “Profile: Abu Bakar Ba’asyir.” BBC News, June 11, 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-10912588. Together with Abdullah Sungkar, Bashir established an Islamic school, or madrasa, called Al-Mukmin in Ngruki, Central Java in 1972. “Profile: Abu Bakar Ba’asyir.” BBC News, June 11, 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-10912588. The school indoctrinated students with a disestablishment gospel, calling for the overthrow of the Indonesian government and the founding of an Islamic state under sharia. As a result of perpetual inflammatory remarks against President Suharto’s regime and promotion of an Islamic state, Bashir was charged with subversion in the late 1970s. “Profile: Abu Bakar Ba’asyir.” BBC News, June 11, 2011, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-10912588. Sungkar was also charged with infractions against the state and the two fled to Malaysia in 1985.Richard C. Paddock, “Australia Hunts for Terror Cells,” Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2002, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2002-nov-17-fg-cells17-story.html.
During their exile in Malaysia, Bashir and Sungkar expanded their network of madrasas, sending students to training camps in Afghanistan and Mindanao in Southern Philippines. It is during this period of outreach and network building, that the basis for the Jemaah Islamiyah’s organization is developed.Jeremy Ginges, Justin Magouirk, Scott Atran, “Radical Madrasa in Southeast Asia,” CTC Sentinel, February 2008, https://ctc.usma.edu/radical-madrasas-in-southeast-asia/. Following the fall of President Suharto in 1998, both returned to Indonesia to continue their campaign for a sharia state.“Profile: Abu Bakar Ba’asyir.” BBC News, June 11, 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-10912588.
Bashir has been in and out of jail for over four decades on charges of providing support for terrorism, inciting violence, and calling for the overthrow of the government and establishment of sharia. The Indonesian government and judicial system have arguably exercised restraint in prosecuting Bashir. According to several sources, Indonesian authorities have been hesitant to prosecute the cleric to the fullest extent of the law for fear of angering Islamic extremists within the country. Onishi, Norimitsu. “Indonesia Sentences a Radical Cleric to 15 years.” New York Times, June 16, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/17/world/asia/17indonesia.html?_r=0. For example, Bashir was arrested and charged in 2003 for his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings, but ultimately received a minor conviction related to immigration breaches.“Indonesia Profile: Timeline.” BBC News, October 24, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-15114517. In 2004, Bashir was charged with involvement in the 2003 JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, but the court cleared him of any implication.“Abu Bakar Bashir: Timeline of extremism.” ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), October 26, 2011. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-06-16/abu-bakar-bashir-timeline-of-extremism/2760374. In March 2005, in a second trial related to the 2002 Bali bombings, Bashir was found guilty of conspiracy and sentenced to less than four years in prison, though he only served 3 months.Teslik, Lee Hudson. “Profile: Abu Bakr Bashir (a.k.a. Ba’asyir).” Council on Foreign Relations, June 14, 1006. http://www.cfr.org/indonesia/profile-abu-bakar-bashir-k-baasyir/p10219.
Finally, on August 9, 2010, Indonesian authorities arrested Bashir for involvement in planning terror attacks and supporting an extremist training camp in the Aceh province of Sumatra. In December of that year, Indonesian prosecutors said they were seeking the death penalty for Bashir.“Abu Bakar Ba'asyir: The radical Indonesian cleric linked to Bali bombings,” BBC News, January 6, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-10912588; Saputra, Andy. “Indonesian Islamic cleric could face death penalty, police say.” CNN, December 14, 2010. http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/12/13/indonesia.cleric.arrest/. On June 26, 2011, Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his support of the training camp established by militant group “Al Qaeda of the Veranda of Mecca,” which appears to have no ties to al-Qaeda’s core leadership.Onishi, Norimitsu. “Indonesia Sentences a Radical Cleric to 15 years.” New York Times, June 16, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/17/world/asia/17indonesia.html?_r=0.
Even when imprisoned, Bashir continues to preach for establishment of sharia and a violent toppling of the Indonesian regime. In 2008, he established a new group, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), following a sermon in which he referred to tourists in Bali as “worms, snakes and maggots” and called for youth to seek martyrdom. “Abu Bakar Bashir: Timeline of extremism.” ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), October 26, 2011, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-06-16/abu-bakar-bashir-timeline-of-extremism/2760374. JAT has since been implicated in numerous terrorist attacks.“JEMMAH ANSHORUT TAUHID (JAT),” United Nations Security Council, July 17, 2018, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/entity/jemmah-anshorut-tauhid. Bashir had sought to revive the “Islamic movement” in Indonesia through public outreach and education. In order to serve this purpose, he established JAT as an “open and above-ground” organization, as opposed to the “underground” characteristic of groups such as JI.Amy Chew, “Indonesia’s arrest of Jemaah Islamiah leader involved in Bali bombings exposes active recruitment to create caliphate,” South China Morning Post, July 1, 2019, https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/3016833/indonesias-arrest-ji-leader-para-wijayanto-exposes. JAT’s establishment caused a rift within JI, with some members following Bashir and others remaining committed to the original group. JI and JAT disagreed over strategy and tactics, and eventually JI leaders demanded that anyone who joined JAT must leave JI.“Indonesia: The Dark Side of Jama’ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT),” International Crisis Group, July 6, 2020, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/b107-indonesia-the-dark-side-of-jama-ah-ansharut-tauhid-jat.pdf. According to the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, when JAT was founded, Bashir’s links to JI, “which had frayed for some time, were severed, and he no longer had anything to do with the organization.”“The Re-emergence of Jemaah Islamiyah,” Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, April 27, 2017, 1, http://file.understandingconflict.org/file/2017/04/IPAC_Report_36.pdf.
Most recently, in July 2014, while in prison he convened a group of high-ranking JAT leaders and family members, vocalizing his support for ISIL. It is believed that support would come in the form of financial contribution and training of fighters to be sent to the frontlines in Syria.Witular, Rendi A. “Abu Bakar Ba’asyir calls on followers to support ISIL.” The Jakarta Post, July 14, 2014. http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/07/14/abu-bakar-ba-asyir-calls-followers-support-isil.html. In June 2020, an ISIS-linked Indonesian coupled were convicted of an attempting to assassinate Indonesian Security Minister Wiranto in October 2019. During their trial, the couple admitted to being radicalized online and listening to Bashir’s speeches.Agence France-Presse, “Jakarta jails ISIS-linked couple who tried to assassinate minister,” Straits Times, June 26, 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/jakarta-jails-isis-linked-couple-who-tried-to-assassinate-minister; “Wiranto: Indonesia security minister stabbed by ‘IS radical’,” BBC News, October 19, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49997210.
On January 18, 2019, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that Bashir would be released early for humanitarian reasons but reversed his decision days later.Ninek Karmini, “Indonesia leader to free radical cleric behind Bali bombings,” Associated Press, January 18, 2009, https://apnews.com/e98a433cb091451fa0255a53c385f255. According to his lawyers, Bashir refused to fulfill the condition of pledging loyalty to the Republic of Indonesia and Pancasila, the official state ideology.“Indonesia cancels early release for Abu Bakar Bashir, radical cleric linked to Bali bombings,” Channel NewsAsia, January 23, 2019, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/indonesia-abu-bakar-bashir-early-release-cancelled-bali-bombings-11157000. In April 2020, his lawyer submitted a letter to the Indonesian government requesting Bashir be released due to his old age and a possible COVID-19 outbreak in the prison.Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, “Radical Indonesian cleric Bashir asks for early release from prison, says age puts him in Covid-19 high-risk group,” Straits Times, April 3, 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/radical-cleric-bashir-asks-for-early-release-from-prison-says-age-puts-him-in-covid-19. Bashir was released on January 8, 2021, “as his prison term expired and ended,” according to an Indonesian corrections official. His incarceration was shortened due to sentence reductions typically granted to prisoners in Indonesia based on the length of their sentence, religious holiday exemptions, and illness. Bashir had accumulated 55 months of sentence reductions, according to an official at the West Java Law and Human Rights Agency.Agence France-Presse, “Indonesia set to free Bali bombing-linked cleric Bashir,” France 24, January 1, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210104-indonesia-set-to-free-bali-bombing-linked-cleric-bashir; “Terror convict Ba’asyir to be released after serving sentence,” The Jakarta Post, January 5, 2020, https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2021/01/05/terror-convict-baasyir-to-be-released-after-serving-sentence.html.
The U.S. Department of State designated Jemaah Islamiyah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act) and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (under Executive Order 13224) on October 23, 2002. Freeze of assets in U.S. financial institutions; ban on admission of members to U.S.; ban on providing “material support or resources” to entity.“Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm; “Snow Announces Designation of 10 Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) Terorrists,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, September 5, 2003, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/js700.aspx.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Abu Bakar Ba’asyir (under Executive Order 13224) on April 13, 2006. Blocks all property in U.S. or under possession of control of U.S. persons; bans any property-related transactions by U.S. persons or within U.S., including giving or receiving contributions to the entity.“Treasury Designated Four Leaders of Terrorist Group – Jemaah Islamiyah,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 13, 2016, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/js4179.aspx.
The U.S. Department of States designated Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, established by Bashir in 2008, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act) on February 23, 2012.“Terrorist Designations of Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid,” U.S. Department for State, February 23, 2012, https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/266619.htm.
The United Nations listed Abu Bakar Bashir as an individual associated with the al-Qaeda Network on April 21, 2006.“Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Amends One Entry on Its Sanctions List,” United Nations, October 14, 2015, https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12082.doc.htm.