Phil Britten knew the day was coming when the alleged mastermind behind the Bali bombings would walk free.
Britten, who was badly burnt across 40 per cent of his body and lost seven of his Kingsley Football Club mates in the blast, now fears firebrand Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir will radicalise others to follow in his footsteps.
Bali bombing survivor Phil Britten with wife Rebecca.
Bashir walked free from an Indonesian jail on Friday, nearly two decades after the October 12, 2002 attack on a Bali nightclub killed 202 people, including 88 Australians and brought mass-casualty terrorism to Australia's doorstep for the first time.
Bashir is considered the spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah network, which was behind the attack. In 2005 he was jailed for conspiracy over the bombings, but his conviction was quashed on appeal.
He was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2011 after being convicted of funding a military-style camp that trained Islamic militants in the religiously conservative Aceh province. His earlier release was due to sentence reductions accumulated over the years.
Police said they would continue to monitor the activities of the ailing 82-year-old, and his son said that, for now, Bashir would be avoiding activities outside his family home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir sits inside a van as he leaves Gunung Sindur Prison in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, on Friday.Credit:AP
Britten, 40, says he still has concerns about Bashir being released and "going back into society and doing what he's always done".
"It's a few years on now and, yes, he is an old man. But I have concerns we are living in a world now when more than ever people are looking for community, searching online and are more inclined to be radicalised.
"Over the years you have to learn to let go and let people deal with those matters. If I waste my time, anger and emotions on things that I can't change, I’m not living my best life for my family."
Perth-based Britten has kept an eye on Bashir's case. In 2019, Indonesian President Joko Widodo considered releasing Bashir on health grounds, but scrapped the plan after the cleric declined to pledge allegiance to the Indonesian state.
Residents and tourists evacuate the scene of the 2002 bomb blast in Bali, Indonesia. The attack killed 202 people including 88 Australians.Credit:AP
"That doesn't make it any easier for any Australian to accept that, ultimately, that those who are responsible for the murder of Australians would now be free."
For Michael Curtis, who was in the middle bar of the Sari Club when the roof collapsed on him and pinned his leg to the floor, Bashir's release has brought back the nightmare of that night.
"It's really disappointing. It basically encourages them to make it OK," he says.
"Those kids who look up to him – they will think it's OK, you can get away with it."
Curtis, 42, who lives in Tumby Bay, South Australia, says the 2002 attack never goes away, and in some ways it gets worse over time.
"It's still very front of mind. I haven't dealt with it all that well. I'm a man's man, I hold everything in," he says.
"Letting him [Bashir] out really disappoints me, anger comes to mind and disappointment. It brings it all up again."
Gary Nash, who was nearby Paddy's Bar when the first bomb went off and suffered burns to 54 per cent of his body, lays the blame on the Indonesian government.
"They should have kept him in jail or executed him with the rest of them," the 76-year-old says.
"He’s getting a bit old now, but he still wields a lot of influence and I think there is evidence that there are still a lot of extremists there who are willing to listen to him."
"I’m still suffering badly. We talked about amputation [of the legs] at one stage. I still have heavy bandaging, I still have to see the burns and vascular people at the hospital, I still get a nurse coming in three days a week just to remind me of what is going on."
While Australian survivors of the Bali blast feel let down, the release of Bashir barely caused a ripple in Indonesia.
Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, says the country has been preoccupied with battling a surge in COVID-19 cases and the outlawing of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front.
She says the views of the Australian government and public on the Bashir release were well known in Jakarta, but any push to stop the release would have been seen as interference and deeply resented.
"I don't think he's a threat now. He hasn't been connected to Jemaah Islamiah for over a decade, and [radical cleric] Aman Abdurrahman was far more influential than Bashir in terms of inspiring support for ISIS," she says, referring to the Islamic State terror group.
"He will be watched like a hawk, and COVID-protocols will surely be strictly enforced to prevent any mass gatherings."
Ansyaad Mbai, the former head of Indonesia's National Counter-Terrorism Agency, says Bashir could still pose a threat by inspiring others.
"If he keeps making [radical] statements, incite people, calling for jihad – if that happens, it will create a new problem," he says.
"But hopefully, after years being in prison, he can change. The problem is, he is an ideologist and it is difficult for an ideologist to change.
"As long as he can still think, gives sermons, the government must monitor [him]."
Ridlwan Habib, an expert on terrorism issue from the University of Indonesia, says Bashir's influence within Jemaah Islamiyah has declined after being cut off from the outside world for the past 15 years.
But he says the "legendary figure" could be used by other groups to drive their own agenda.
"We must remember that in 2014 Abu Bakar Bashir took the oath of allegiance to ISIS and it caused him to lose his influence within JI, the organisation he helped build in 1985," he says.
"And from the ISIS point of view, Bashir's role is also minimal within JAD [Jamaah Ansharut Daulah – ISIS's ally in Indonesia] because it is Aman Abdurrahman who is the central figure of JAD.”
Habib says the Indonesian government also had plans to use Bashir an agent or figure of deradicalisation.
It is doubtful whether this strategy will work after Bashir reportedly declined to participate in deradicalisation programs when he was in prison.
Despite the ongoing threat of terror attacks in the country, the Australian government believes Indonesian authorities have come a long way over the past two decades in its efforts to counter terrorism, including through its deradicalisation programs.
Bashir could be the ultimate test.
With Karuni Rompies
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