Indonesia frees cleric linked to 2002 Bali bombings

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This handout photo taken on January 8, 2021 and released by Indonesia National Prison shows Abu Bakar Bashir, 82 (C) being escorted by prison guards as he leaves the Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, on the outskirts of Jakarta, after completing a 15 year prison term. (AFP)
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In this photo release by Correctional Facilities Directorate General of Indonesian Justice Ministry, Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, center left, poses for a photo with lawyers, prison staff and his son Abdul Rochim, second right, before leaving Gunung Sindur prison upon his release, in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 08 January 2021

Indonesia frees cleric linked to 2002 Bali bombings

  • Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, was never convicted for attack but was jailed for involvement in militant training camp
  • The Muslim cleric is regarded as spiritual leader of Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Jemaah Islamiah blamed for series of attacks in Indonesia

JAKARTA: An Indonesian cleric linked to the 2002 Bali bombings which killed more than 200 people was on Friday freed after completing a 10-year jail term unrelated to the attack.

Abu Bakar Bashir is regarded as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda and blamed for a series of deadly attacks in Indonesia.

The 82-year-old was never convicted over the Bali bombings and was sentenced to prison for involvement in a militant training camp.

Bashir was picked up from a jail outside Indonesia’s capital Jakarta by his sons and lawyer, Achmad Michdan, and returned home to Sukoharjo in Central Java province.

“He was also escorted by officers from the national counterterrorism agency and the Densus 88 anti-terrorism police squad,” said Rika Aprianti, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency earlier said that the cleric would be included in a deradicalization program following his release.

Abdul Rohim, one of his sons, told reporters that the family would do its best to keep Bashir away from any fallacious thinking by “giving him the right arguments about Islam.”

Upon arrival home in Ngruki hamlet, where Bashir’s controversial Al-Mukmin boarding school is located, the cleric’s lawyer said relatives had asked that he “spend time with his family first before he starts meeting other people.”

Bashir was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years for his involvement in a militant training camp in Aceh province and spent part of his term in the high-security jail in the Nusakambangan island off the southern coast of Java, before he was moved to another penitentiary as his health deteriorated.

His 15-year term was later cut by 55 months due to sentence reductions.

He swore allegiance to Daesh in 2014 during his imprisonment in Nusakambangan and clips of him taking the pledge were circulated on social media.

According to former convicted terrorist, Sofyan Tsauri, Bashir was fed with “persuasive” information about Daesh by Abu Walid, an Indonesian associate of the terror group’s leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

“When he was there, his students, who were affiliated to Daesh, were guarding him, while his sons were unable to do so. I am sure his sons, including Rohim, would keep Bashir away from such people who want to see him,” Tsauri told Arab News.

While Bashir is believed to have inspired the 2002 Bali blasts, for which Jemaah Islamiah has been blamed, he has never been convicted over the attack which was the deadliest in Indonesia’s history, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Jemaah Islamiah has also been linked to a series of other attacks, including the 2003 bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, the 2004 Australian embassy bombing, a second round of bombings in Bali in 2005, and another attack on the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Jakarta in 2009.

 


‘Dozen’ dead in suspected Burkina Faso jihadist attack

Updated 27 September 2022

‘Dozen’ dead in suspected Burkina Faso jihadist attack

  • Violence has raged in the landlocked west African country after Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in a January coup

OUAGADOUGOU: A suspected jihadist attack in the north of Burkina Faso has killed around a dozen people, mostly soldiers, security sources told AFP on Monday.
Violence has raged in the landlocked west African country after Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in a January coup, ousting Burkina’s elected leader and promising to rein in jihadists.
But as in neighboring countries, insurgents affiliated to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group have stoked the unrest.
In the latest attack, a convoy carrying supplies to local residents and escorted by a military unit “was the target of a terrorist attack” near Gaskinde in the Sahel region, an army statement said.
“The attack unfortunately caused human and material losses,” and a full toll would be established “as soon as possible,” it said.
A security source told AFP that a preliminary toll indicated “about a dozen dead among elements of the unit. There were also a number of seriously wounded.”
The source added that reinforcements had been sent to the area, both to secure it and to aid the victims.
On Sunday an improvised explosive device that targeted another army-escorted resupply convoy in the Sahel wounded four people, security sources said.
These attacks followed one on Saturday in the country’s east near the borders with Niger and Benin. The army said at least two soldiers and two civilian auxiliaries were killed in an ambush on their patrol.
Thousands have died and about two million people have been displaced by the fighting since 2015 when the insurgency spread into Burkina Faso.
Earlier this month Damiba sacked his defense minister and assumed the role himself after a series of jihadist attacks.

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Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

Updated 27 September 2022

Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

  • Blinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out and rebuilds from the floods

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Monday on Pakistan to seek debt relief from its close partner China as floods devastate the South Asian country.
Blinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out from the floods, which have submerged one-third of the country, an area the size of the United Kingdom.
“We send a simple message. We are here for Pakistan, just as we were during past natural disasters, looking ahead to rebuild,” Blinken said after talks in Washington with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
“I also urged our colleagues to engage China on some of the important issues of debt relief and restructuring so that Pakistan can more quickly recover from the floods,” Blinken said.
China is a key economic and political partner of Pakistan, pushing ahead with a $54 billion “economic corridor” that will build infrastructure and give Beijing an outlet to the Indian Ocean, although Chinese interests have also faced attacks from separatists.
Washington, whose Cold War alliance with Islamabad has frayed, has repeatedly charged that China will reap the benefits while Pakistan will face unsustainable debt.
The warnings by the United States — which considers China its preeminent global competitor — have repeatedly been brushed aside by Pakistan.
Some 1,600 people — one-third of them children — have died in Pakistan’s floods and more than seven million have been displaced, amid fears that such severe disasters will become more common due to climate change.
The United States has committed $56 million in humanitarian aid and sent 17 planes full of supplies, with promises of long-term support.
Bhutto Zardari said that President Joe Biden, who signed a landmark domestic climate package last month, also needed to look at “climate justice.”
“It’s not only important that you ‘build back better’ here,” he said, using Biden’s campaign slogan.
“The opportunity of this crisis in Pakistan is that we must build back better — greener, more climate-resilient — back home as well,” he said.
“I believe that working together we can do this.”
Pakistan, despite being the fifth most populous country, contributes only about 0.8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change due to its state of development.
The US relationship with Pakistan sharply deteriorated over the course of the two-decade war in Afghanistan.
Under heavy pressure, Pakistan provided crucial logistical access, but US officials believe Islamabad’s powerful military and intelligence apparatus never abandoned the Taliban, who swept back to power last year as US troops pulled out.
“We have had our differences — that’s no secret,” Blinken said.
But he said Pakistan and the United States “have a shared stake in Afghanistan’s future,” including greater freedoms for women and girls, whose rights have again been heavily curtailed by the Taliban under their austere interpretation of Islam.
In another longstanding concern of the United States, Blinken encouraged Pakistan to respect for freedom of religion and expression.
Pakistan has seen repeated attacks against religious minorities and mob violence over accusations of blasphemy.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s five-month-old government has faced criticism for restrictions on the media since he replaced Imran Khan, who lost a no-confidence vote in parliament after running afoul of the military.
Blinken also called on Pakistan to pursue a “responsible relationship” with India.
Dialogue has been at a standstill between the historic rivals, with India launching airstrikes in February 2019 in response to a deadly attack blamed on Pakistan-backed militants.
Immediately after meeting Bhutto Zardari, Blinken was hosting a dinner for India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, with whom he will hold talks on Tuesday.
The South Asian foreign ministers were not expected to meet in Washington.

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UN speeches end with silence from Myanmar, Afghanistan

Updated 26 September 2022

UN speeches end with silence from Myanmar, Afghanistan

  • There was no speech from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, who now control the nation after a US withdrawal, and no words from Myanmar, where a military junta toppled the civilian government
  • Myanmar and Afghanistan didn’t go entirely unmentioned at UNGA77 with Nepali FM Bharat Raj Paudyal referencing both countries

UNITED NATIONS: For the second straight year, Afghanistan and Myanmar were silent at the UN General Assembly’s leaders’ meeting, which ended Monday with no representative of either government stepping forward to talk as the United Nations tries to resolve who should represent them.
At the annual high-level meeting of leaders, there was no speech from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, who now control the nation after a US withdrawal last year, and no words from Myanmar, where a military junta toppled the civilian government last year and detained its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
For Afghanistan, it mirrored last year’s assembly when the Taliban — in its second chapter of ruling the nation — tried to figure out how to interact with the United Nations.
Last month, the UN special envoy on Myanmar said she wouldn’t visit the Southeast Asia nation again unless its military government allows her to meet with Suu Kyi, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, including a three-year term with hard labor imposed last week for alleged election fraud.
Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021 from Suu Kyi’s elected government, plunging the country into what some UN experts have described as civil war. Critics say the charges subsequently brought against Suu Kyi and top figures in her Cabinet were fabricated to keep them out of politics.
In December, the UN delayed actions on both Afghanistan’s and Myanmar’s bid for seats. UN diplomats said then that the decision to delay the requests by Myanmar’s junta and the Taliban had wide support because of the actions of the two countries’ new rulers.
Myanmar and Afghanistan didn’t go entirely unmentioned Monday. Bharat Raj Paudyal, foreign secretary of Nepal, brought up both of them.
“Afghanistan has remained on the precipice of uncertainty and violence,” he noted, and asked all parties in Myanmar to “respect the will of the people to elect their representatives.”


Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

Updated 26 September 2022

Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

  • Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013
  • Documents revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA

Vladimir Putin on Monday granted Russian citizenship to former US. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, nine years after he exposed the scale of secret surveillance operations by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013 that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA, where he worked.

US authorities have for years wanted him returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.

There was no immediate reaction from Snowden, whose name appeared without Kremlin comment in a Putin decree conferring citizenship on a list of 72 foreign-born individuals.

The news prompted some Russians to jokingly ask whether Snowden would be called up for military service, five days after Putin announced Russia's first public mobilization since World War Two to shore up its faltering invasion of Ukraine.

"Will Snowden be drafted?" Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state media outlet RT and a vocal Putin supporter, wrote with dark humour on her Telegram channel.

Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told RIA news agency that his client could not be called up because he had not previously served in the Russian army.

He said that Snowden's wife Lindsay Mills, who gave birth to a son in 2020, would also apply for citizenship.

Russia granted Snowden permanent residency rights in 2020, paving the way for him to obtain Russian citizenship.

That year a US appeals court found the program Snowden had exposed was unlawful and that the US intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth.

Putin, a former Russian spy chief, said in 2017 that Snowden, who keeps a low profile while living in Russia, was wrong to leak US secrets but was not a traitor.


Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

Updated 26 September 2022

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

  • State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency
  • Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said ‘we deeply value our relationship with France’

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will host French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on December 1 for the first full-scale state visit of his administration, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
The visit will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship between the United States and France, our oldest ally,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at the White House.
State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency, which Jean-Pierre attributed to Covid pandemic restrictions.
Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Jean-Pierre said “we deeply value our relationship with France.”
The link between the two countries is “founded on shared democratic values, economic ties, and defense and security cooperation,” she said.
Relations between Paris and Washington hit a major crisis last year when Australia abruptly announced it was ditching a contract to buy conventional French submarines in favor of a US nuclear-powered submarine deal.

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