Dwi Siti Rhomdoni was waiting for her coffee at a Starbucks store in the heart of the Indonesian capital that morning, when the bomber blew himself up about two meters away.
The blast’s impact threw her to the floor and knocked her unconscious, Dwi recalled.
As she regained consciousness she heard people, some covered in blood, call out for help. A man standing in front of her had nails planted in his chest – shrapnel from the explosion.
“My ears were ringing, my vision blurry, my head dizzy. I was dazed,” Dwi, 37, told BenarNews in an interview at the same Starbucks outlet. “I said to myself ‘I don’t want to die here.’”
Eight people did die – four attackers and four bystanders – and 23 others suffered injuries in the Jan. 14, 2016, attack in central Jakarta, the first terrorist strike in Indonesia claimed by the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS).
Four years on, Dwi and other victims of the attack are still struggling to overcome the mental and physical scars it left behind.
‘Hatred only breeds more pain’
For about a year, Dwi, who suffered cervical fractures and bruises on her left chest and legs, said she was too afraid to set foot in any Starbucks store. She left her job as a public relations officer.
“Every day I was angry at the situation. I couldn’t watch TV and I dreaded the prospects of being disabled and unable to work,” she said.
Then she met Kurnia Widodo, a repentant ex-bomb maker who had served six years in prison for a failed terrorist plot, at an event initiated by the Indonesian Alliance for Peace (AIDA). The group seeks to empower victims of terrorist attacks in Indonesia through personal stories of survival and forgiveness.
Dwi was seething. She refused to look at Kurnia’s face or talk to him.
But she mustered the courage to ask him: “Are you genuinely remorseful or are you just paying lip service? You could have chosen not do it, but you did it anyway.”
“Hatred only breeds more pain. I came to the realization that the former convicts genuinely wanted to make amends and were deeply remorseful. So, I forgave them,” she said.
The explosion that threw her to the floor four Januarys ago was followed by a second bomb blast and a barrage of gunfire, as anti-terrorist police battled militants outside the Starbucks next to a shopping center on Jalan Thamrin, one of the main roads in Jakarta’s central business district.
Investigators determined the attackers were followers of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a local IS affiliate.
In 2018, JAD founder and chief ideologue Aman Abdurrahman was sentenced to death for leading a string of attacks carried out by the militant network, including the January 2016 Jakarta attack. In addition, six people have been sentenced to between three and 10 years in prison for their roles in the attack that injured Dwi and others.
Another victim, Agus Kurnia, 28, has struggled with hearing loss from injuries caused by bomb fragments. “My heart sometimes beats faster and my ears hurt. I prefer seclusion now,” he told BenarNews.
“Because I live in Kampung Bali, I have to pass by that location every day. I was scared at first, but I tried to overcome the trauma,” he said, referring to his home in a Jakarta neighborhood.
“I didn’t want to make a long detour because it’s too tiring,” said Agus, a marketing officer at a restaurant.
He recalled the time that an unattended suitcase at an airport caused him to hide behind a column.
Both Dwi and Agus say they are more fortunate than many other victims of terrorism in Indonesia.
“Others have had more severe wounds. There are those who suffered burns to 70 percent of their bodies. Some have become blind and have fractured jaws. Some others are permanently disabled and can’t work anymore,” Dwi said.
She and 13 others who were wounded in the 2016 attack have joined the Indonesian Survivors Foundation (YPI), which is dedicated to caring for victims of terrorism.
All but one have received cash compensation ranging from 28 million rupiah (U.S. $2,000) to about 202 million rupiah ($14,700) based on a 2018 court ruling.
Agus urges the government to pay attention to the victims by providing them with permanent jobs, including people injured in earlier terror attacks.
“There are still many other victims who have not received help out there. I am just luckier because I have received a lot of help,” he said.
One of those other victims, Nanda Olivia Daniel, 40, was injured in the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy, where a suicide bomber killed eight people and injured 150.
She said she had not received compensation from the government because a compensation law passed in 2018 does not apply retroactively.
“There is no other choice but to wait because we are victims of past attacks. I will accept any amount,” she told BenarNews.
State revising compensation rules
Help could be coming.
Susilaningtyas, deputy chairwoman of the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK), which represents the government, said the regulation on victim compensation, restitution and assistance was being revised but those revisions are not complete.
“We cannot implement it because it has not been signed by the president. We are sorry that the victims have to wait. We hope that this revision will be completed soon so payments can be made immediately,” she told BenarNews.
In 2019, LPSK has paid 1.7 billion rupiah ($124,000) compensation to 21 victims of the 2016 attack, Susilaningtyas said.
In addition, at least 595 of about 800 people who claimed to have suffered from any terror attack in Indonesia have received some form of assistance from the government over the past two years.
“The assistance has been in the form of medical and psychological care as well. We are cooperating with various hospitals,” she said.
To receive assistance, victims need to meet requirements including statements from the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) and medical records.
BNPT Chairman Suhardi Alius said his agency was paying attention to the victims and their families, and working with relevant ministries to deliver assistance.
“We also provide psychological support, livelihood assistance and other things that BNPT can do,” he says.
Meanwhile, Dwi said she no longer dreaded sitting in Starbucks, but could not drink the beverage that made it famous.
“I’m still traumatized because at that time I was ordering a coffee,” she said.