Indonesia is hosting a rare encounter between former terrorists and victims of terror in the hopes of strengthening its deradicalization programs by exposing perpetrators to the suffering they have caused.
The three-day reconciliation effort convened by the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) is taking place mostly behind closed doors at a luxury hotel in Jakarta, with an event open to the media on the final day, Wednesday.
Dozens of former terrorism convicts already work with the BNPT in trying to uproot violent extremist ideology in Indonesia, but some prisoners have shown no sign of remorse, officials say.
“The cooperative ones can whisper to them, ‘these are the victims, not the police,’” Irfan Idris, BNPT director of deradicalization efforts, said Monday at the start of the event, referring to the fact that police are common targets for extremists in Indonesia.
BNPT Principal Secretary R. Gautama Wiranegara described the event as a breakthrough, the first of its kind since the worst terror attack in Indonesia – twin bombings in the beach town of Kuta, Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people and injured hundreds more.
“Hopefully this event can become a medium to channel productive suggestions to the government,” he said.
Among 51 victims attending the event were two women who survived a bombing at the Marriott hotel in Jakarta on Aug. 5, 2003. Twelve people died in that attack and more than 100 were wounded.
As a dozen of men – evidently former terrorism convicts – suddenly passed them in the hotel corridor, the pair stopped in their tracks.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” one said to her companion.
The women acknowledged they felt uneasy entering the event because the number of former terrorism convicts attending was more than twice the number of former victims.
“We should welcome everything good, but the worries are still there,” one said. Both asked that their names not be used.
“I come here willingly, I welcome this meeting,” she went on to say. “The perpetrators are human. Incidentally, they are Muslim as well. Why should we feel antipathy for them, and get angry again.”
Asked what would be the first thing she would say to one of them, she replied with the Muslim greeting, Assalamu’alaikum (I salute you).
“We introduce ourselves, first. And then I will ask what can we do together, now and in the future. I don’t want to ask, ‘Why were you like this before? Why did you do it?’ It’s already in the past. I want to talk about now and in the future. No need to open old wounds.”
“We want there to be no more terror events. Meaning, in the future, security should be improved so that the people of Indonesia are safe, peaceful, serene,” her companion said.
She urged the government to pay attention to the health of victims of terror attacks, saying that many of them are still in need.
“Please don’t put limits on health care, because many are still suffering …. there are still bomb fragments in their bodies, but they can no longer get a free check-up. We’re really asking the government for this,” she said.
A participant named Sofian said he had been arrested in Poso, Sulawesi – a remote Indonesian region where remnants of the al-Qaeda affiliate that carried out the Bali bombings were still hiding until a security operation flushed them out of the jungles in 2016.
The Jakarta native said he joined a radical movement in Poso because he felt compelled to address “injustice” following an outbreak of Muslim-Christian riots there in 2000 that drew many angry young Muslims to the region.
“Injustice in all areas, including economic. I come from a lower middle class family. I felt economic pressure … I felt called to action that was a form of resistance against the central government,” he said.
He said he hoped something useful would come out of the encounter with victims.
“For example, how we can work together. Don’t let it just be ceremonial,” he said.