Indonesia’s top justice official said Tuesday that authorities were considering an early release for the bombmaker in the 2002 Bali attack that killed 202 people, despite upsetting Australia’s leader who described him as “abhorrent.”
Hisyam bin Alizein, 55, is better known under his alias Umar Patek as a leading member of the al Qaida-linked Southeast Asian Islamic radical group Jemaah Islamiyah. Indonesian authorities said Patek was an example of successful efforts to reform convicted terrorists and they will use him to influence others to not carry out terrorism.
Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly said Patek has fulfilled all requirements for parole as recommended by Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency known as BNPT. But his ministry received an objection, though he did not specify who raised it.
“In terms of his participation in the deradicalization program, he has been loyal to the Republic of Indonesia for a long time, but we are still considering inputs from many elements,” Laoly said. “We still need one more letter, apart from BNPT.”
Patek received a total of 33 months of sentence reductions, which are often granted to prisoners on major holidays, such as his five-month reduction granted in August for Indonesian Independence Day.
Patek was found guilty by the West Jakarta District Court of helping build the massive car bomb used in the deadly 2002 Bali nightclub attacks that killed 202 people — mostly foreign tourists — including 88 Australians, leaving a deep scar in that country.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described Patek as “abhorrent” and said his early release will cause further distress to Australians who were directly affected by the Bali bombings.
“His actions were the actions of a terrorist,” Albanese told Channel 9 on Friday. “We lost 88 Australian lives in those bombings.”
Albanese said he would continue making “diplomatic representations” to Indonesia about Patek’s sentence and a range of other issues, including Australians currently jailed in Indonesia.
Patek was sentenced to 20 years in prison a decade after the bombing. He left Bali just before the attacks and spent nine years on the run and was considered one of Asia’s most wanted terror suspects.
Some felt the sentence was too light, but were encouraged by the remorse Patek expressed during the trial. Patek admitted he helped make the bombs, but said he did not know they would be used. He has apologized to the victims’ families, Christians and the government.
Patek told reporters earlier this month that he was committed to helping the government with deradicalization programs “so that they can fully understand the dangers of terrorism and the dangers of radicalism.”
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation and third-biggest democracy has imprisoned hundreds of Islamic militants since the Bali bombings.
Director of Prevention at BNPT Ahmad Nurwahid said their aim is not only to jail them, but to change their platform to be law-abiding citizens. He said that many convicts, including Patek, have changed and are drawing on their experience to prevent others from taking up violence.
“We hope that Umar Patek’s early release will provide more significant results and massive gains in the deradicalization program,” Nurwahid said.
An Indonesian court banned Jemaah Islamiyah in 2008. The U.S. and Australia have since provided support to sustain Indonesia’s crackdown on the group and weaken it. In recent years, attacks on foreigners have dropped but less deadly attacks on the government — particularly anti-terrorism forces — have persisted, inspired by Islamic State group tactics abroad.