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20 years after Bali bombings, 'the ache does not dim'

A monument stands less than 50 yards from the bombing sites with the names of those who died inscribed on it.
Australia Bali Bombing
Posted at 9:34 PM, Oct 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-11 22:34:55-04

DENPASAR, Indonesia (AP) — Hundreds gathered Wednesday on the Indonesian resort island of Bali to commemorate 20 years since the blasts that 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 and relatives of the deceased were among the 200 in attendance to pay tribute to their loved ones who died in the most popular tourist area on the island two decades ago.

Survivors and relatives laid wreaths and flowers at the Memorial Garden after a moment of silence.

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.

Survivors are still battling with their trauma of the tragedy, when a car bombing in Sari Club and a nearly simultaneous suicide bombing at nearby Paddy's Pub on a Saturday night in October 2002.

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 those who died inscribed on it. People regularly come and 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."

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.

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McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.