A radical Indonesian Muslim cleric, thought to be behind the 2002 terrorist bombings that killed 202 people on the resort island of Bali, said in a recent interview that he still believes Indonesia should implement Islamic law, vowing to work to make it happen.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 84, who was freed last year after serving time in a separate case for funding a militant training camp, spoke with Kyodo News last month near Solo on the main island of Java ahead of the bombings' 20th anniversary on Wednesday.
Bashir is the alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group to which the perpetrators of the Bali attack belonged. The group is also linked to the international terrorism network al-Qaida.
The attack on Bali nightclubs crowded with foreign tourists killed 88 Australians, the most among foreign nations. Two Japanese also died. Indonesia experienced a slew of terror attacks in subsequent years, including the bombing of an upscale hotel in Jakarta in 2003 that killed 12 people.
Days after the Bali attack, Bashir was arrested over a separate case and later imprisoned. After being released in 2004, he was sent to prison again in 2005 for conspiracy over the Bali bombings but was acquitted by the Supreme Court the following year.
In the interview, Bashir said the attack was wrong but that he believes three men executed in 2008 for their involvement in the bombings had "good intentions and purposes" because they were trying to "get rid of sinful deeds" such as music and alcohol that go against Islamic law.
During his trial over the bombings, Bashir was found to have given his blessing when the plan was insinuated prior to the attack. The Supreme Court overturned the determination, finding no orders given by the cleric or conspiracy involving him.
Bashir repeated in the interview that he is not a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah and never ordered the attack.
About Indonesia being a secular democracy and the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, with more than 230 million adherents who primarily practice a moderate form of Islam, Bashir rejected it as a mistake.
"What we have to do now is work hard to make Indonesia implement Islamic law because Indonesia is actually supposed to be an Islamic state. But successive governments have not been willing to implement it," the cleric said.
"I have sent two letters to the president after being released from prison," Bashir said, adding he plans to write more letters to President Joko Widodo to urge him to accept his idea.
Bashir said Indonesia partially implements Islamic law, such as through religious affairs offices, which deal with Islamic marital registration. He called for establishing an Islamic state, saying that is the only way to practice perfect Islamic law.
Wearing a white robe, the white-bearded Bashir still routinely leads an Islamic prayer five times a day at a big mosque at the center of his Al-Mukmin Islamic school.
Despite a worsening health condition, he forces himself to receive guests and walk within the school complex and around his residence located inside the complex. He uses a wooden stick and is aided by his son to walk.
The school, which he founded, marked its 50th anniversary this year. It is attended by hundreds of students coming from all over the country.
In August, an association of school alumni, now numbering around 14,000, held an Independence Day flag-raising ceremony in the school compound, attended by, among others, members of the military and police, and government officials in addition to some 600 students, Bashir said.
In 2011, Bashir was handed a 15-year jail term after being found guilty of funding a terrorist training camp in the westernmost province of Aceh. He was released in January last year after his sentence was shortened for good behavior.