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Innocence lost, justice won in 10-year struggle

Date

Greg Barton

Mourners pay their repects near the Sari Club after the 2002 Bali bombings.

Mourners pay their repects near the Sari Club after the 2002 Bali bombings.

Some anniversaries are particularly hard. Today is one of them. On the 12th of October 2002, in a corner of Indonesia beloved of many Australians, an ordinary Saturday night was shattered in the fiery blasts that destroyed Paddy's bar and the Sari Club, killing 202, including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians, and scarring the bodies and lives of hundreds more.

Nothing can change the horror of what happened and for Indonesia and Australia a certain naive innocence was lost. But that does not mean that those behind the attacks succeeded. In the terrible aftermath of those murderous explosions a long struggle began. A struggle to save and to heal but also to secure justice and prevent further attacks.

Ten years on from Bali it is only natural that we take stock and ask what has been achieved over the past 10 years. Has justice been served? Are we safer — should we fear another large-scale terrorist attack in Indonesia? While nothing can undo what has happened there is some good news here. We are, in fact, very much safer today, and the risk of a large-scale attack is now minimal. Australian co-operation with the Indonesia police has exceeded expectations and at the same time Indonesia has successfully prosecuted terrorists while upholding the standards of an open democracy.

All of the terrorists involved in the Bali bombings have been brought to justice and the network that supported them has been substantially disrupted. This is not the impression that most Australians have but the facts of the matter are clear. As we remember lives lost and turned upside down it is important to recognise that much has also been achieved.

Excellent co-operation between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Indonesian Police (Polri), beginning within hours of the bombing, saw the owners of the bomb vehicle identified. Amrozi and a string of his fellow terrorists were arrested within weeks. Good relations, built over many years, between the head of the Bali investigation, I Made Pastika, AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, AFP agent Graham Ashton, and others, saw the killers tracked down and brought to trial on the back of compelling evidence.

In the months following the Bali bombing, with advice and technical assistance from the AFP, the FBI and the CIA, Polri formed an elite counter-terrorism squad, Densus 88. Since then it has had remarkable success in tracking down terrorist cells. Polri and Densus 88 have apprehended more than 750 terrorists over the past decade and more than 650 have been successfully prosecuted. This includes all of those responsible for the Bali bombings.

Amrozi, his brother Mukhlas and Imam Samudra were convicted and sentenced to death in October 2003 and executed in November 2008.

The last of the Bali bombers, Umar Patek, was arrested in Pakistan in January 2011 and recently began a 20-year prison term in Indonesia.

Abu Bakar Baasyir, the leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network behind the Bali bombings in 2002, and a string of small attacks in 2000 and 2001, was sentenced for a third time in June 2011, this time to a term of 15 years.

Hambali, one of the key links between al-Qaeda and JI, was arrested in Thailand in August 2003 and remains in detention in Guantanamo Bay.

Bombing masterminds Azahari Husin, Noordin Mohammed Top, and Dulmatin, have all been killed in police raids. Azahari, JI's leading bomb-maker, was shot dead during a fire fight with Densus 88 in East Java in November 2005. Top died during a Densus 88 raid in Central Java in September 2009. Dulmatin managed to evade police for seven years but was finally confronted by Densus 88 in an internet cafe on the outskirts of Jakarta on the March 9, 2010.

The capture of Umar Patek and deaths of Top and Dulmatin over the last several years represented significant breakthroughs in reducing the terrorism threat in Indonesia. Azahari's technical skills and Top's capacity to recruit and prepare suicide bombers are thought to have made a significant contribution to success of the 2002 attacks in Bali. What is even more clear, however, is that Top and Azahari were the prime movers behind the August 2003 bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta (which killed 11), the September 2004 car bomb attack on the Australian embassy (which killed 9), and the October 2005 suicide bomb attacks in Bali (which killed 20 people in three separate blasts). After Azahari's death Top attempted a series of smaller attacks and in July 2009 was able to put together twin suicide bombings at the JW Marriott Hotel and the adjacent Ritz Carlton Hotel in Jakarta. These four attacks appear to have been driven by these individuals without formal support from JI. This, and the fact that the attacks, though lethal, were limited in their effectiveness points to the diminished capacity of Indonesia's terrorists.

The removal of these five terrorist leaders further reduced this capacity. Nevertheless, the fact that Densus 88 continues to uncover small groups of terrorists preparing for attacks points to the resilient nature of the threat.

All of the key leaders associated with JI have now been captured or killed. Most of these men were members of the "Afghan alumni", a cohort of extremists who had trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan and were associated with the network for several decades. They were experts in assembling elaborate explosive devices, recruiting terrorists and planning ambitious operations. The terrorists now being arrested are relatively amateurish and inexpert. Consequently, we are unlikely to see a repeat of the large operation that produced the attacks in Bali 10 years ago. Nevertheless, when cells are uncovered Densus 88 typically finds caches of weapons and explosives. The threat posed by suicide bombers remains very real.

The time has not yet come when the threat of terrorism can be said to have been eliminated — not in Indonesia or anywhere else. But much has been achieved. Justice has been served and the terrorists have not won.

Greg Barton is the Herb Feith Research Professor for the Study of Indonesia at Monash University. He is acting director for the Centre for Islam in the Modern World and a lead researcher at the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash.

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