‘We will never forget’: 20 years after the Bali Bombings | News

Medan, Indonesia – Hayati Eka Laksmi first realized something was wrong when her husband didn’t come home from his night shift on October 12, 2002.

Her husband, Imawan Sardjono, is a 33-year-old firefighter at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. He spent the day showing his brother-in-law and two friends the sights of Indonesia’s most popular tourist island.

Sardjono had rented a car for the group’s visit, and after enjoying dinner together, he planned to drive them back to the hotel before leaving for work. But the plan led them all to the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Laksmi found out what happened when a representative from the rental car company came to the house she shared with her husband and their two sons, who were then two and three years old.

“I am very sad,” she told Al Jazeera, recalling that morning. “It is an extraordinary sadness. He was the most responsible husband, and it was a great loss. I still feel it to this day.”

The wreckage of Sardjono’s car was found outside the Sari Club in Kuta, a busy tourist town with many bars and restaurants that was the target of a coordinated attack by members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Indonesian hardline group.

A photo showing the destroyed car and debris of Sadrjono after the 2002 Bali Bombings with bodies covered by white sheets in front
Sardjono’s car (left) destroyed in the Kuta bombing in 2002 [Courtesy of Hayati Eka Laksmi]

The car was completely destroyed, and the rental company suspected that Sardjono, his brother, and two of their friends were all dead.

“My sons just say, ‘What’s the matter, Mom? What’s up? ‘” Laksmi, now 52, ​​told Al Jazeera. “I do not know what to say.”

Laksmi rushed to local hospitals in Denpasar, which was flooded with victims and survivors of the attacks, the worst in Indonesian history. More than 200 people were killed and a similar number were injured.

The dead included citizens from more than 20 countries, including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians.

Unable to find Sardjono’s body in any hospital, Laksmi went to the Sari Club, hoping to find something that would indicate her husband had been there. On the ground, among the debris, she spotted a pair of his shoes.

“I brought it home as proof,” she said. “I showed it to the kids, to show them that he wasn’t coming home. They haven’t accepted it yet,” she said.

It was not until seven days after the bombing that Laksmi found her husband’s body at a local hospital and was able to officially identify him by his uniform. He was the only airport employee missing.

“We were then able to bring his body home, but for us it wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning,” she said. “When my sons saw his coffin, they said, ‘That’s not my dad, my dad is still working.’ It frustrates me. I just said, ‘I’m so sorry. This is your father. ‘”

After the bombing, Laksmi said, her children would cry and scream, and be filled with rage.

Her eldest son pledged to become a member of Densus 88, Indonesia’s counter-terrorism agency.

Portrait of Imawan Sardjono in uniform with red beret and blue shirt
Imawan Sardjono was dropping off friends at their hotel when they were killed [Courtesy of Hayati Eka Laksmi]

Her youngest son has found therapy through drawing.

“When he was just starting out, I would ask him why everything he paints is black,” says Laksmi. “”Because everything burned,” he would reply.

Sardjono’s car went behind a truck driven by a JI bomber who detonated the device outside the Sari Club by removing the suicide vest he was wearing.

The truck was loaded with TNT and stuffed into a file cabinet and chemicals to hasten the explosion.

The explosion left a crater more than 1 meter (3.3 feet) deep in the road.

‘Bodies are everywhere’

JI also targeted Paddy’s Bar, a neighborhood nightclub popular with tourists, while a third bomb was detonated remotely outside the US consulate. That one failed to activate properly and did not cause any injury.

Arnold, who did not wish to reveal his full name, had worked at the Sari Club as a bartender for about three years when he heard what he thought was the counterproductive of cars or vehicles. machine.

It was almost midnight, and the music was on and blaring across the venue, muting up some of the sound of the first bomb exploding at Paddy’s Bar.

The bombers planned the attack to kill as many people as possible – the Paddy’s bomb was supposed to cause an uproar and drag everyone out of the Sari Club at the same time as the suicide bomber in the van full of his explosives out.

Arnold didn’t remember hearing the explosion.

His first memory is of waking up to find himself on the floor behind the bar at the back of the club where he was serving drinks. Wounded and covered with burns, he crawled out the front door to escape, only to find carnage on the street outside.

“There are bodies everywhere,” he told Al Jazeera.

The truck was driven to the bar by a man named Ali Imron, who later disappeared into the night.

His two older brothers, Amrozi and Mukhlas, were executed in 2008 for their part in the attacks, along with a fourth member of JI, named Imam Samudra. Imron was given a life sentence, instead of the death penalty, after he apologized for his actions and expressed remorse at his trial.

Fountains and stele inscribed with the names of 202 people who died
The memorial to those who lost their lives in the bombings is now where the Sari Club used to be [Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP]

Arnold met Imron a few months ago at the police station, Polda Metro Jaya, in Jakarta, where he has been detained for nearly 20 years, as part of a program organized by Densus 88 to empower survivors to meet perpetrators of atrocities in an attempt to help them find an end.

“As soon as I met him, he whispered in my ear that he was sorry,” Arnold told Al Jazeera. “As a Christian, it is my duty to forgive him. At first, when this first happened, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I lost my job, I lost my friends. Bali almost died”.

“Slowly, I learned to let go of it. What good is it to think about it all the time? So I was very calm when I met Imron. I told him that I hope his apology is more than just words, and that he means something in his heart.”

Arnold met Imron with Laksmi, a devout Muslim who also chose to forgive him for the part he played in her husband’s murder.

“None of us are innocent, but it is important that we acknowledge what we have done,” she told Al Jazeera. “And he will receive his punishment, not only on this earth, but in the life to come. What they did was not in the name of any religion, but just about their own twisted ideology.”

Laksmi and Arnold will meet on the morning of October 12, as they have done every year since the bombing. Together with other families and victims, they will go to the memorial, where the Sari Club used to stand, and pray together.

“Then we will have a kind of family gathering where we can all be together and support each other,” Arnold said. “We do it every year. We will never forget.”


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