Today marks ten years since the ‘Bali Bombings’, which tragically killed 202 people, including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians, and injured more than 240.
For many Australians, the memory of the Bali bombings are now part of our collective national consciousness, an acute awareness of the evil of terrorism in its ability to destroy innocent lives indiscriminately – both those who were murdered without reason and those who have been grieving for their loved ones ever since.
The Bali bombings were the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Indonesia and caused the largest loss of Australian life outside of war.
As is known, on 12 October 2002, three bombs were detonated: a backpack-mounted device carried by a suicide bomber and a large car bomb were both detonated in or near popular tourist nightclubs Renon, and Sari and Paddy’s in Kuta. A third smaller device was detonated outside the United States consulate in Denpasar, causing minor damage. Members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a violent Islamist group with links to al-Qaeda, were responsible for the attack.
It is important to remember that Australians were deliberately targeted in the Bali attack, and this was a year before Australia’s involvement in the war in Iraq. (Bizarrely, some commentators have ahistorically started claiming Bali was a response to the Iraq war.) An audio-cassette purportedly carrying a recorded voice message from Osama bin Laden stated that the Bali bombings were in direct retaliation for support of the United States’ war on terror and Australia’s role in the liberation of East Timor.
To Indonesia’s credit it did acknowledge the threat of specifically “Islamist” terrorism in Indonesia and became a leader in counter-terrorism. The largest Muslim nation on earth – and a successful young democracy – recognises that these bombings were motivated by a perverse and violent ideology which claims to be acting in the name of Islam. This is a key achievement – because the most effective counter to extremist Islamist ideology and the violence it incites is mainstream Islam – and Indonesia is a key model for how this can be accomplished.
As President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently noted in the Age:
“A decade after the Bali bombing, we can say with some relief that justice has been done. Members of the terrorist group who planned and committed the attack have been apprehended, tried and convicted. Three have been executed and other major conspirators – including Azahari, Dulmatin, Nurdin M. Top – were killed during police raids.
Some of those in jail have expressed remorse and regret, and renounced the extremist ideology behind the attack. Others have collaborated to provide intelligence that led to the arrest of a succession of terrorist cells. Since 2001 our commitment to combat terrorism has resulted in the capture and legal sentencing of hundreds of terrorists.
Whatever the motivation and calculation of the terrorists, the Bali bomb attack did not produce its desired effects. In fact, it resulted in just the opposite. Throughout Indonesia, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists overwhelmingly condemned the attack and repudiated those who misused religion to carry out acts of violence. The entire nation was galvanised to defend freedom, democracy and tolerance. And internationally, Indonesia became a key player in the fight against global terrorism, and Indonesia also became an active proponent of inter-faith co-operation.
The Bali bombing set off a set of critical chain reactions. The public debate over whether terrorism was a real or imagined threat to Indonesia was laid to rest. We recognised that freedom, democracy and tolerance cannot be taken for granted. Our national security thinking evolved rapidly and terrorism became public enemy No. 1…
The Bali attack was also a turning point in Indonesia-Australia relations, which had suffered challenges brought forth by the events in East Timor. It produced a compelling reason for Jakarta and Canberra to explore new ways of co-operation in a world haunted by new, unfamiliar threats…”
However, despite the progress made in Indonesia in counter-terrorism, the threat of terrorism remains high in Indonesia, as evidenced by this week’s warning from Indonesia Police that terrorists may target the 10th anniversary Bali bombing memorial service being attended by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott on October 12.
As John Kerin noted in the Australian Financial Review yesterday:
“Indonesian authorities have brought more than 700 terror suspects to justice over the past decade. Jemaah Islamiah, which carried out the 2002 Bali bombings, is in retreat but a number of smaller extreme Islamist groups still remain a threat.”
While Indonesia faces significant terrorist threats, the Bali bombings and 9/11 a year before, were an unwelcome wakeup call for many Australians, that Australians are not immune from the threats of global terrorism.
This applies to our police and security forces as well, who have had to vastly increase their focus on counter-terrorism work, and the sophistication with which it is carried out.This was recently reinforced by comments made by Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton, who was the joint head of that Bali bombing taskforce, when he said that the attack on Bali led to an increase in the effectiveness of counter-terrorism in Australia which have foiled terrorist plots that have not been made public. Mr Ashton said:
“What happened in Bali, particularly the suicide bombing aspect, got me to form up in my mind how vital it was that we quickly develop a counter-terrorism plan that involved co-operating with international agencies offshore, as well as ramping up our onshore counter-terrorism capabilities… Since the Bali bombings, we have prevented numerous events due to having ramped up our resourcing and our skills and our level of co-operation nationally…”
On the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombings, we remember the overwhelming tragedy and loss of life that occurred. We should also remember that effective counter-terrorism is a policy we cannot take for granted in Australia. It is a vital investment and our best defence against evils like the Bali bombings happening again.