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20 years after Bali bombings, ‘the ache does not dim’

DENPASAR, Indonesia ((DailyNews)) — Hundreds gathered Wednesday on the Indonesian resort island of Bali to commemorate 20 years since a twin bombing killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, including 88 Australians and seven Americans.

Services were held simultaneously in several places in Australia and at Bali’s Australian Consulate in the city of Denpasar, where Australian survivors of the 2002 terrorist attack and relatives of the deceased were among the 200 in attendance to pay tribute.

Survivors are still battling with their trauma from the Saturday night in October 2002, when a car bomb in Sari Club and a nearly simultaneous suicide bomb at nearby Paddy’s Pub went off. That night remains seared into the national memories of Indonesians, Australians and many others.

After the attack, the bustling tourist area was quiet for a time, but it has since returned to a state of busy weekends, packed traffic and tourists. What used to be Sari Club is now a vacant lot, while Paddy’s Pub has resumed its operation 100 meters (300 feet) from its original location.

A monument stands less than 50 meters (yards) from the bombing sites with the names of the those who died inscribed on it. People regularly come to pray and place flowers, candles, or flags with photos of their loved ones.

A photo of two women tied with a bouquet of fresh chrysanthemums and roses sits next to a laminated paper that reads: “To our beautiful girls Renae & Simone. It is twenty years on and not a day has gone by without thinking of you both, and how we lost two treasures. Our hearts will cry for you forever. We love and miss you so very much. Your loving Dad and Brothers.”

Twenty years later, the pain is still felt.

“We will always remember those 202 innocent people, most under the age of 40, the youngest just 13 years old. We stand with the survivors, relatives and families and support them at this time. And we remember the valor and the quiet courage of those who saw the worst of humanity and responded with the best,” Australian Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts said at the memorial service in Denpasar.

Andrew Csabi, one of the survivors in attendance in Denpasar, said he is grateful to the first responders who issued first aid without self-preservation the night after the bombing, and to the government who medically evacuated them to Darwin, saving many lives.

“So I was granted a second chance at life and I make every minute count. I was often told that my life is bad for a reason. And how lucky I am. Yes, I am lucky I made it home and I will honor that privilege,” Csabi said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended a service in his hometown, Sydney, at the beachside suburb of Coogee. Six members of the Coogee Dolphins Rugby League Football Club died in the blasts.

Albanese paid tribute Wednesday to the strength and unity the Coogee community had shown since the tragedy.

“Twenty years ago, the shock waves from Bali reached our shores. Twenty years ago, an act of malice and calculated depravity robbed the world of 202 lives, including 88 Australians. Twenty years on, the ache does not dim,” Albanese said.

At a ceremony at Australian Parliament House in the national capital Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong welcomed Indonesian Ambassador Siswo Pramono, who was among the dignitaries.

“Ambassador, on behalf of the Australian government, I warmly welcome you and acknowledge the strength, the courage and the cooperation of our two peoples,” Wong said in Bahasa, the official language of Indonesia.

“Today, we remember what was taken. Today, we remember what was lost. And we wonder what might have been had they all come home,” Wong added.

Pramono said the terrorist attack had created a “better and stronger bond” between Indonesia and Australia.

“Twenty years ago today, a hideous crime struck and it was one of the saddest days in Indonesian history,” Pramono told the gathering.

“Family and friends were left with overwhelming grief and even though a lot of hearts were broken and our loved ones were taken from us, there are some things that a terrorist couldn’t take: our love and compassion for others and the idea that people are equal in rights and freedoms,” Pramono added.

The 2002 attack in Bali, carried out by suicide bombers from the al-Qaida-linked group Jemaah Islamiyah, started a wave of violence in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Three years later, another bomb attack the island and killed 20 people. Numerous attacks followed, hitting an embassy, hotels, restaurants, a coffee shop, churches, and even police headquarters across the archipelago nation.

Two decades after the Bali bombings, counterterrorism efforts in the world’s most populous Muslim country remain highly active. Indonesia founded Densus 88, a national counterterrorism unit, in the wake of the attacks. More than 2,300 people have since been arrested on terrorism charges, according to data from the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies, a non-government Indonesian think tank.

In 2020, 228 people were arrested on terrorism charges. The number rose to 370 last year, underscoring authorities’ commitment to pursue suspects even as the number of terrorist attacks in Indonesia has fallen.

The pursuit of suspects related to the Bali bombings has also continued, most recently resulting in the arrest of Aris Sumarsono, 58, whose real name is Arif Sunarso but is better known as Zulkarnaen, in December 2020. The court sentenced him to 15 years in prison for his role. Indonesian authorities also suspect him to be the mastermind of several other attacks in the country.

In August, Indonesia’s government considered granting an early prison release to the bombmaker in the Bali attack, Hisyam bin Alizein, 55, better known by his alias, Umar Patek, who has also been identified as a leading member of Jemaah Islamiyah.

Indonesian authorities said Patek was an example of successful efforts to reform convicted terrorists and that they planned to use him to influence others not to commit terrorist acts. But the Australian government has expressed its strong opposition to his possible release.


McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.

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