Ahead of 20th anniversary, Bali bombing survivors remember life-changing event

Luh De Suryani
Denpasar, Indonesia
Ahead of 20th anniversary, Bali bombing survivors remember life-changing event People gather around lit candles at Kuta Beach in remembrance of the victims of the 2002 Bali bombing during the 10th anniversary of the incident, in Kuta, Bali, Oct. 12, 2012.
[Murdani Usman/Reuters]

Twenty years after the Bali bombings, some survivors have come to terms with their injuries and loss of loved ones, and some have forgiven the militants who carried out the attacks that killed 202 people.

But news that Umar Patek, the convict who helped assemble the bombs used in Indonesia’s worst terror attack, may be released on good behavior has angered many. 

Ni Luh Erniati, who lost her husband, Gede Badrawan, in the bombings, said she met Umar in the Porong penitentiary in neighboring East Java province on Sept. 23 as part of a government deradicalization program.

“He kissed my feet and apologized. I didn’t know what to do. He wept,” Erniati told BenarNews.

“I said ‘I have forgiven you.’ Let’s keep our beloved country peaceful so there will be no more Bali bombings,” the mother of two said.

In August, corrections officials said Umar could be released on parole soon after receiving a series of sentence reductions for good behavior.

Umar, whose real name is Hisyam bin Ali Zein, was arrested in the Pakistani district of Abbottabad in January 2011, four months before United States Special Forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid in the same area. Umar was deported to Indonesia in August that year.

He testified during his trial in 2012 that he was involved in assembling the explosives used in the Oct. 12, 2002, bombings that targeted Bali nightclubs, but he denied taking part in planning the attack. Following his trial, Umar was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a crime usually punishable by death.

Counterterrorism officials have touted Umar as a deradicalization success story, but news of his impending release has outraged Australians, 88 of whose compatriots died in the bombings, and victims in Indonesia.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that Umar’s pending release would “cause further distress” to families of those killed in the bombings.

The bombings that took place at about 11p.m. Oct. 12, 2002, killed 202 people and injured hundreds more. Three bombs were detonated in Bali, two in busy nightspots – the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar – and one in front of the American consulate.

The attacks were blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian militant network linked to al-Qaeda.

More than 1,000 people have been convicted and jailed on terrorism-related charges since the Bali bombings, according to the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT).

Three militants belonging to Jemaah Islamiyah – Imam Samudra, Muhammad Ali Ghufron and Amrozi bin Nurhasyim – were sentenced to death in 2003 for their roles in the attack and were executed by firing squad in 2008.

Ni Luh Erniati (left), and Thiolina Marpaung. [Courtesy Ni Luh Erniati and Thiolina Marpaung]

‘I’m scarred for life’

Among the victims opposed to Umar’s parole is Thiolina Marpaung, who underwent surgery to remove glass shards from her eyes after the explosion at Bali’s Sari Club sent shrapnel into the car she was in with two colleagues.

“He should serve 20 years and now it’s discounted. It’s based on government regulation, but as a survivor I ask: Why did he get sentence cuts?” said Thiolina, 49.

“What did the victims get? I was born without any disability, but because of what happened I’m scarred for life. Children lost their parents, women became widows. Is this worth it?”

Thiolina said she remains traumatized by the events.

“When I’m stuck in traffic, I keep being reminded of the bomb,” she said.

Thiolina founded Isana Dewata, a foundation that helps children and widows of the Bali bombings.

She is advocating for a “Peace Park” on the site of the former Sari Club where a memorial to the victims has been constructed.


Umar, meanwhile, said it was “a mistake” to be involved in the Bali bombings.

In an interview with a prison official in August that was uploaded on YouTube before being removed, Umar said he hoped to educate Indonesian youths about the danger of religious extremism.

Erniati, whose forgiveness Umar had sought and who runs a sewing business, said she holds no grudges.

“We must learn to make peace with ourselves, others and the environment. I feel when I’m angry or sad, I don’t feel well,” she said.

Erniati said her husband, who was head waiter at the Sari Club, died in the bombing.

“I heard my neighbors talk about body parts strewn on the Legian street. I kept telling myself that it wasn’t a bomb,” she said.

“I became increasingly worried. I prayed to god that my husband would come home soon. I waited until 4 a.m., and he did not come home.”

Finally she mustered the courage to go to the Sari Club.

“When I arrived, it was already burned to the ground. I realized that it was unlikely for my husband to survive,” she said.

His body was identified four months later.

Limna Rarasanti, who lost her father, I. Made Sujana, a security guard at the Sari Club, said she has finally found peace.

“After 20 years, I hope we can just live our lives and make a success of whatever we do,” she said.

Still, she said she sometimes dreams of her father.


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