No ordinary criminals: Bali bombings in 2002 a wake up call for Indonesia’s security agencies
Oct 12 marks the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings. In the first part of a series looking at what happened, CNA focuses on how the security agencies pinpointed those responsible and strengthened their mechanisms to deal with the terror threat.
JAKARTA: For weeks, police investigators combed through the piles of rubble and debris littering Bali’s Legian Road, looking for clues about the culprits who were responsible for the 2002 bomb attack which killed 202 people.
Amid the media attention and international pressure from the 22 countries where the victims originated, Indonesian authorities knew they had to get the job done and fast.
However, the bombings were Indonesia’s first major terrorist attack. Although the police deployed 300 of its finest investigators, the majority of them had only ever dealt with ordinary criminals and drug trafficking rings.
“We only had a Law on Terrorism in 2003. Police only established a counter-terrorism unit in 2005. It was the first time the government realised that we need a law to deal with cases like this and a team dedicated to dealing with terrorism cases in Indonesia,” Adhe Bhakti, a senior researcher from the think-tank Radicalism and De-radicalisation Study Centre told CNA.
The bombings on Oct 12, 2002 were a wake up call for the authorities and the public that a terrorism network called Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) had managed to gain a foothold in the vast Muslim-majority archipelago.
“Before this, no one knew what a terrorist was. Nobody understood what motivated people to commit such acts of violence,” Indonesian National Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT) director for terrorism prevention, Ahmad Nurwakhid, told CNA.
The absence of a legal umbrella to investigate and prosecute cases of terrorism prompted the administration of then-president Megawati Sukarnoputri to hastily formulate a government regulation in lieu of law on the eradication of terrorism.
The regulation was enacted on Oct 18, 2002, just six days after the bombings. In March the following year, the Indonesian parliament unanimously voted to adopt the regulation as a permanent law.
The move marked the beginning of Indonesia’s war on terror. Over the course of two decades, thousands of suspects were either apprehended or gunned down by authorities. Meanwhile, efforts were being made to contain the terrorists’ radical ideologies from proliferating further.
However, Indonesia’s war on terror was not without consequences.
As the authorities began closing in on JI, more attacks were launched as retaliation. These included the bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in 2003, the attack on the Australian embassy in 2004 and the second Bali bombings in 2005. They cost the lives of 12, nine and 23 people, respectively.
Through the arrests and killings of some of its figureheads, JI was eventually weakened, leaving the rest of the network in disarray and pushing members underground.
Several of these former JI militants would go on and form their own terrorism groups like Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and Eastern Indonesian Mujahidin, all of which would later launch their own attacks.
In his 2017 book “Misi Walet Hitam” (Black Swift Mission) about the hunt for the 2002 Bali bombing suspects, retired police general Arif Wachyunadi wrote that investigators finally made a breakthrough on Nov 2, 2002.
They stumbled upon a charred roadworthiness certificate beneath the rubble and debris near the site of the blast.
The document came from a white Mitsubishi van that the terrorists had used to launch a car bomb attack against a nightclub on Legian Road. The vehicle was packed with hundreds of kilograms of explosives.
Wachyunadi wrote that police were able to ascertain the identity of the last owner of the van, a JI operative named Amrozi bin Nurhasyim. Amrozi was arrested three days later on Nov 5, 2002 at his home in Lamongan, East Java.
At Amrozi’s home, police were able to find crucial pieces of evidence which would help bring down other members of the network.
Among those were receipts for the purchase of bomb making chemicals and a mobile phone containing the names and contacts of Amrozi’s associates.
On Nov 26, 2002, police were able to apprehend the man behind the attack, Imam Samudra. Meanwhile, Amrozi's brothers Ali Ghufron and Ali Imron were arrested on Dec 3 and Dec 4 that year respectively.
Ali Imron was the main field operator during the attack, tasked with supervising the two suicide bombers and making sure they detonated the explosives.
Not much is known about the suicide bombers other than the fact that they both went by the name Iqbal.
Meanwhile, Ali Ghufron – also known by his alias Mukhlas – was responsible for bringing in several explosives experts to make the bombs.
Among those were Djoko Pitono also known as Dulmatin; Hisyam bin Ali Zain, who also went by the name Umar Patek and two Malaysian-born bomb experts: Azahari Husin and Noordin Muhammad Top.
These men had one thing in common: They were all graduates of a paramilitary camp operated by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
“This was the moment the Indonesian authorities realised that they were not dealing with an ordinary group of criminals but a terrorism network with links to Al Qaeda,” Taufik Andrie, executive director of security think-tank Institute for International Peace Building, told CNA.
Azahari would later be killed in a police raid in 2005, Noordin was slain in 2009 while Dulmatin was killed in 2010. Meanwhile, Umar Patek was arrested by Pakistani authorities in Abbottabad in March of 2011 and was extradited to Indonesia a few months later.
Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas were later sentenced to death and were executed in 2008. Ali Imron, who decided to cooperate with authorities, was given a life sentence.
Umar Patek was handed a 20-year prison term in 2012, as he had cooperated with the police.
Another key figure was Encep Nurjaman, better known by his alias Hambali, who was allegedly the key messenger and courier linking JI and Al Qaeda.
He was arrested in Thailand in 2003 before he was put under the custody of the US Military and taken to Guantanamo Bay detention camp where he remains today.
Police also arrested the then leader of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir in 2004. However, according to court records, prosecutors were only able to prove that Bashir knew about plans to launch the 2002 bombings and nothing more.
As a result, he was only sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment and he was released in 2006 to the cheers of hundreds of his supporters waiting for him outside of prison. That same year, the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned his guilty verdict.
TERRORISM NETWORKS PROLIFERATE
During Bashir’s time in prison, the role of JI’s leader would be assumed by Abu Rusydan who at the time had just been released from prison for providing a safe house to 2002 Bali Bombing suspect Mukhlas.
The takeover led Bashir to form JAT in 2008. The group would later be responsible for establishing a paramilitary camp in the jungles of Aceh province in 2009.
The camp was raided by police in March 2010. Bashir was later sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the Aceh training camp.
After the Aceh camp was raided, several JAT members shifted their attention to Poso, Central Sulawesi in the hopes of establishing their own paramilitary training camp there. Poso was once the scene of a bloody sectarian conflict which killed 700 people between 1998 and 2001.
These JAT members subsequently established the Eastern Indonesia Mujahidin group in 2010.
Today, the group is believed to be running its own paramilitary camp deep in the jungles of Poso and neighbouring Sigi and Parigi Moutong regencies.
In 2014, another terrorism group, the JAD, was born. It was inspired by the rise of the Islamic State (IS) and the success in controlling parts of Iraq and Syria.
The group was founded by another JAT member Aman Abdurrahman.
The BNPT said the group would be responsible for sending more than 2,000 Indonesians to join IS in Iraq and Syria.
For his role in JAD, Abdurrahman was given the death sentence in 2018. He is now awaiting execution.
The rise of JAD would pave the way for Indonesia to revise its Law on Terrorism, which at the time did not bar anyone from joining a terrorist organisation overseas. The revision was enacted in 2018.
SECURITY AGENCIES MORE EFFECTIVE NOW
Is Indonesia now better prepared for large scale terror attacks?
Twenty years after the 2002 Bali bombings, the police’s Special Counterterrorism Deatchment 88 (Densus 88) has become one of the most well trained and well equipped security units in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the BNPT has been praised for its success in de-radicalising some of the country’s most hardened radicals.
Among those said to have renounced their extreme beliefs is 2002 Bali bombings operative Umar Patek who formally pledged his allegiance to Indonesia during his time behind bars.
The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights said recently that Umar Patek will soon be eligible for parole.
Another key figure who appears to have softened ideologically is JI co-founder and former leader Bashir.
The 84-year-old made headlines recently for acknowledging Pancasila as national ideology, saying that it is aligned with Islamic beliefs after years of disavowing it.
In August, he staged an Indonesian Independence Day celebration at his Islamic boarding school Al Mukmin in Sukoharjo, Central Java.
It was the first Independence Day celebration in the school’s 40 year history. The school was once believed to be a key recruiting ground for JI.
But it is noteworthy that the JI network is still operational.
Under Para Wijayanto, JI was able to raise millions of dollars each year using several charitable organisations the network had set up as fronts.
Some of the money was used to train recruits and send its members to war-torn Syria to hone their combat skills, while some were spent on explosives and firearms.
However, the likelihood of a large-scale terrorist attack like the 2002 Bali bombings is small, analysts said, as Indonesian authorities have become more effective in cracking down on terrorism networks in the country over the last 20 years.
“The 2018 Law on Terrorism allows the police force to act quicker and make an arrest very early on. It is very hard today to muster the money and resources needed to pull off an attack at the scale seen in the first Bali bombings without attracting (police) attention,” terrorism expert Andrie said.
But that would not stop a few radicalised individuals from trying, said Bhakti of the Radicalism and De-radicalisation Study Centre.
“At this point, no group has the capacity to emulate the damage done during the first Bali bombings. But the threat of small-scale attacks is still around,” he said.
“For some militants it is not about how many casualties an attack can generate. It is about sending a message: ‘we are still here’.”
Read this story in Bahasa Indonesia here.