Photo of jailed cleric showing support for ISIS goes viral

A photo of jailed cleric Abu Bakar Bashir showing support to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has gone viral online in Indonesia, prompting opposition from not just the government but also his own followers.

Bashir is currently serving a 15-year jail term for terrorism in the high-security Nusakambangan island prison in Central Java but inmates are allowed visitors.

The Law Ministry immediately announced a probe would start today to find out when and where the photo was taken.

The photo surfaced as counter-terrorism officials warned that Indonesians who join ISIS and fight in Iraq and Syria may lose their citizenship and reports of Indonesian radicals swearing allegiance to ISIS sparked alarm.

Bashir was a founder of the Jemaah Islamiah terror network that also had members in Malaysia and Singapore and sent dozens of them to train in Afghanistan in the 1990s. When they returned to South-east Asia, some of them plotted attacks on targets in Singapore but their plans were foiled. Others launched the 2002 Bali bombings that took 202 lives.

The image shows Bashir sitting on a parquet floor flanked by five men in white Arabic robes. Another seven stand behind them. Most of the men's faces are hidden but the ISIS flag is clearly displayed.

Yesterday, the Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), a radical group Bashir founded in 2008, confirmed that it was him in the photo swearing allegiance to ISIS probably sometime in the third week of last month.

But JAT chairman Mochammad Achwan added that Bashir's decision was unfortunately taken based on flawed information provided by his fellow inmates about the situation in the Middle East.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi early last month proclaimed himself as "caliph" of territories that it controls in Iraq and Syria and ordered Muslims to obey him. A caliphate is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader which no longer exists in modern days.

Mr Achwan, speaking to The Straits Times by phone, said the restoration of a caliphate requires three conditions and none were met.

It was not clear how Bashir appeared in this photo while serving a jail sentence.

Mr Achwan said a caliph must be a descendant of Prophet Muhammad. He must be elected by prominent jihad clerics, including those belonging to Al-Qaeda. And the caliphate must have a sovereign area for it to rule. This is why Mr Achwan views al-Baghdadi's proclamation as "questionable" and "not credible".

He said that in the Pasir Putih prison block in the Nusakambangan prison complex, 24 fellow inmates there have been feeding information to Bashir about the situation in the Middle East, showing him video clips and various text messages using WhatsApp.

"I met Ustad Abu (Bashir) several times, the latest was during the mid-Ramadan month, to give him correct information, but they continuously fed Ustad Abu with unbalanced reports and he was finally convinced. They met every day, had meals together. I met Ustad Abu once every two weeks at most," Mr Achwan explained.

At least 30 Indonesians have joined ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, according to the Jakarta Post.

This article was first published on August 04, 2014.
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