JAKARTA: This file photo taken on February 29, 2012 shows Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir (center) escorted by elite Indonesian police commandos upon his arrival at hospital in a wheelchair to undergo cataract surgery in Jakarta. - AFP

JAKARTA: A radical Indonesian cleric linked to the deadly Bali bombings will be released from prison this week, authorities said yesterday, after an earlier bid to free him early was axed following a public uproar. Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, once synonymous with militant Islam in the world's biggest Muslim majority nation, will be freed Friday after completing a 15-year prison term for helping fund paramilitary training in conservative Aceh province.

He was sentenced in 2011, but the firebrand preacher's time was cut due to regular sentence reductions handed to most prisoners in Indonesia. "He will be released on January 8, 2021, as his prison term expired and ended," Rika Aprianti, spokesman for Indonesia's corrections agency, said in a statement.

Bashir's lawyers had appealed for early release citing his old age and risk of contracting COVID-19 in the Southeast Asian nation's notoriously overcrowded prison system. Bashir, a key figure in militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), was previously jailed over the Bali bombings, but that conviction was quashed on appeal.

He has repeatedly denied involvement in the 2002 bombings that killed more than 200 people -- most foreign tourists-in Indonesia's worst terror attack. Two years ago, plans to grant the ageing Bashir early release on humanitarian grounds sparked a backlash at home and in Australia. Dozens of Australians were killed in the Bali attacks, and the early release plan was shelved.

Bashir has since been regularly taken to hospital over his deteriorating health. The 2002 bombings prompted Jakarta to beef up counter-terror co-operation with the US and Australia. Al-Qaeda-linked JI was founded by a handful of exiled Indonesian militants in Malaysia in the 1980s and grew to include cells across Southeast Asia. As well as the 2002 Bali bombings, the radical group was blamed for a 2003 car bomb at the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta and a suicide car bomb the following year outside the Australian embassy.

This week Indonesian police said they had discovered videos showing members of JI training at what they described as terrorist training camps. The dramatic footage, including kidnapping and weapons simulations, was found on the laptop of a recently arrested terror suspect, they said. - AFP