Bali Bomber: 'I want to offer my apologies'

This story originally appeared in The Straits Times, Think on Oct 7, 2012.

If ever he gets out of prison, convicted Bali bomber Ali Imron wants to go to Australia.

"I want to offer my apologies to the victims' families in their homeland," he tells The Sunday Times in an interview at his Jakarta detention centre.

The 42-year-old was sentenced to life in prison nine years ago, for his role in the October 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

He also wants to tell young militants that violent jihad should be waged only in a war zone or an area where Muslims are being attacked or killed. That would rule out Indonesia.

Unlike his older brothers Mukhlas and Amrozi, and accomplice Imam Samudra - who were all executed by firing squad in 2008 - Ali Imron was spared the death penalty because he was remorseful and cooperative during investigations.

Police raids netted dozens of suspects who were members of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) regional terrorist network, into which Ali Imron was recruited by his brothers. He spent two weeks in Singapore in 1991, staying with Mukhlas' friends while waiting for a visa to go to Pakistan, where JI members were trained in handling weapons and explosives.

Arrested in January 2003 while on the run in East Kalimantan, he was tried, convicted of helping to assemble the bombs and sentenced that September. Since then, he has been tapped to help counter-terrorism authorities in their investigations.

These days, Ali Imron appeals to militants and would-be terrorists to think long and hard about the damage caused by bombings and how such attacks hinder rather than help their cause.

At his trial, he told the court he realised, belatedly, that the Bali bombings had violated the principles of jihad.

He now says there are many forms of jihad, and the most appropriate for Indonesia is to campaign for the government to adopt Islamic law.

To those who doubt his expressed remorse, he says: "How can you say I'm faking it? I was called a traitor and my old friends declared my blood as halal." Halal means permissible in Islam.

Some militants declared it would be legitimate to kill him.

On the night of Oct 12, 2002, Ali Imron drove a minivan to a nightclub the group had targeted. He handed the vehicle to the bomber, whom he had taught how to set off the bomb.

He claimed he was just following the orders of his eldest brother, senior JI member Mukhlas, and that he had tried to persuade the others to abort the mission but was overruled by Mukhlas.

"My thinking at that time was that Mukhlas was doing work that was in line with our network's aspirations, which meant that we all had to support it," he said. "But I realised later, it was not the case. Only about one in six members of our network supported the act of bombing."

Terrorism analyst Harry Purwanto said reformed terrorists like Ali Imron can be effective in helping Indonesia curb the spread of radical ideology.

Radicalised citizens are more willing to listen to former militants than clerics from groups such as the moderate Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, he told The Sunday Times.

Two years ago, non-profit organisation Lazuardi Birru, which organises activities to counter extremism among young people, made Ali Imron the main character in a comic book titled Ketika Nurani Bicara (When The Conscience Speaks). It tells the story of how he was recruited and the impact of the bombings on innocent people and their families.

Ali Imron is seeking a presidential pardon and hopes to see his life sentence cut to 20 years. He has pledged to help the authorities continue efforts to de-radicalise young militants.