Last surviving Bali bomber's apology rejected by victims

Ali Imron was sentenced to life in prison for carrying out what remains the deadliest terror attack in South-east Asia

Convicted Bali bomber Ali Imron speaking in detention in Jakarta, before the 20th anniversary of the blasts that killed 202 people. AFP
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The last surviving bomber of the Bali blasts that killed more than 200 people has expressed his regret but victims have rejected his apology.

Ali Imron was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the explosions that ripped through a nightclub and bar on the Indonesian resort island, killing 202 people including 88 Australians in the deadliest terrorist attack in South-east Asia.

"I will regret it until I die and I will apologise until I die," he told AFP on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the bombings, appearing uncuffed in front of an Indonesian flag and a picture of President Joko Widodo at Jakarta's sprawling metro police headquarters.

But victims and the Australian government have refused to accept the remorse of the remaining members of the Bali bomb cell.

"When people are in a bind they will say anything to get out of the problem," said Thiolina Marpaung, a 47-year-old survivor left with permanent eye injuries.

"He said that because he was sentenced to life."

Imron, 52, helped to mastermind the bombings. He built the devices, planted a bomb outside the US consulate in Bali and trained the attackers who detonated a suicide vest and a van loaded with explosives.

The only Bali bomber still alive now languishes in a drug offenders' centre, instead of prison, after claiming repentance and aiding Indonesia's deradicalisation efforts.

His brothers Amrozi and Mukhlas were executed by firing squad on a prison island in central Java.

But Imron was saved from execution after showing remorse and divulging the plot to investigators.

The convicted mass murderer now helps the Indonesian government in a deradicalisation programme criticised by experts for its perceived ineffectiveness.

Indonesia in August approved parole for Bali bombmaker Umar Patek. After his capture in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in 2011, he claims to have been rehabilitated after serving half of his 20-year sentence.

But Jakarta has held off from releasing him after angering the Australian government.

"We have made representations to the Indonesian government about the release of individuals convicted for their role in the Bali bombings, noting the distress it would cause victims and families," an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representative told AFP.

"Ultimately, these are matters for the government of Indonesia and its domestic legal processes."

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong will attend a memorial ceremony on Wednesday at the Bali consulate in Canberra, an Australian diplomat said.

Imron is hoping for a similar decision on his sentence. He said he submitted a request for a presidential pardon this year but had received no response.

There have been no reports of Indonesian officials discussing his release.

Indonesia's National Counter Terrorism Agency, Justice Ministry and a presidential adviser did not respond to a request for comment.

While the programme's terms for early release are strict — participants must pledge allegiance to Indonesia and disavow their criminal networks — the potential release of convicted mass murderers is divisive.

Experts are critical of leniency for militants such as Imron who aligned with the now-banned Jemaah Islamiyah group, Al Qaeda's much-diminished network in Indonesia.

"How do they think?" said Sana Jaffrey, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta. "Nobody knows. You never know if it's sincere or not. But you have to look at the actions."

Imron said he acted on the orders of his older brother after the US invasion of Afghanistan but now calls it a "wrong act of jihad".

He claimed to have since helped to deradicalise at least 400 extremists. He has also fronted a comic-book campaign that preached tolerance to young Indonesians.

If released, he said he would "continue walking on the path of a deradicalisation campaign".

It is a message analysts say Imron may be promoting in the hope of an early release.

"It's part of his survival mechanism, this is something he has to say," said South-east Asian terrorism specialist Noor Huda Ismail.

It is hard to tell if Imron has truly been deradicalised, with his word his only evidence.

He showed little emotion when speaking about the attack and sought to re-emphasise his counter-extremism work despite being a jailed terrorist himself.

Whatever the case, Imron wants to tell the people whose lives he affected that his actions were wrong.

"I will always apologise profusely to them," he said.

But for Ms Marpaung, only God can judge Imron.

"Please don't give a sentence cut," she said.

"He can say that he has repented and he has changed but only God truly knows the truth."

Updated: October 11, 2022, 1:34 PM