20 Years Later, Survivors Struggle with Effects of Bali Bombing

11 October 2022

The smell of smoke still makes Thiolina Marpaung afraid. It reminds her of the bomb explosion that changed her life 20 years ago.

Marpaung was in a car with her coworkers on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002 when the explosion happened. She was temporarily blinded as pieces of glass went into her eyes. Now 48 years old, Marpaung remembers calling out for help and someone bringing her to a sidewalk before health workers arrived.

She is one of many Indonesian survivors who were outside of Sari Club on the night of October 12, 2002. That was when a car bombing and a suicide bombing at nearby Paddy's Pub killed 202 people. Most were foreign tourists, including 88 Australians and seven Americans.

Bali bombing survivor Thiolina Marpaung poses for a photograph during an interview with The Associated Press in Denpasar in Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)
Bali bombing survivor Thiolina Marpaung poses for a photograph during an interview with The Associated Press in Denpasar in Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

Twenty years after the Bali bombings, efforts against terrorism in the world's most populous Muslim country remain active.

More than 2,300 people have been arrested on terrorism charges since a national counterterrorism unit was created after the attacks. That number comes from the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies.

Officials have continued to look for suspects even as the number of terrorist attacks in Indonesia has fallen. In 2020, 228 people were arrested on terrorism charges. The number rose to 370 last year.

But the effort has also raised concerns.

Sana Jaffrey is director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta. He said the public could start seeing "anti-terrorism as something of a political thing rather than a law enforcement effort."

The government is still going after suspects related to the Bali bombings.

In December 2020, police arrested 58-year-old Aris Sumarsono, better known as Zulkarnaen. The court sentenced him to 15 years in prison for his part in the attack.

But in August, Indonesia's government considered releasing the bombmaker in the Bali attack from prison early.

His name is Hisyam bin Alizein, better known as Umar Patek. Indonesian officials said Patek was an example of successful efforts to reform people found guilty of terrorism.

Ni Luh Erniati lost her husband in the Bali bombing. She met Patek at a prison last month. She has also met others who were tried and found guilty of terrorism. She said she believes the meetings can help her heal from the loss of her husband.

She told Patek that "because of that incident, I lost my true love, and I told him my life after that. He was crying, really crying," Erniati said.

Patek asked for her forgiveness, she said.

"I held his hand, I said, ‘Yes, I have forgiven you.' He was crying louder," Erniati said.

"I also told him, let's work together to protect our beloved country so that the same tragedies don't happen in the future," she added.

Erniati said the decision over his release is now up to the government. The government is considering whether to free him after he served half of his 20-year sentence.

Indonesia's Minister of Law and Human Rights said Patek has fulfilled all requirements for early prison release, also called parole. But the Australian government has expressed strong opposition to it.

Peter Hughes is a survivor of the 2002 bombing from Australia. He has visited Bali more than 30 times in the past 20 years after overcoming his physical and mental trauma.

Hughes spent a month in a coma after suffering burns to over half of his body in the Paddy's Pub explosions in Bali.

Hughes said he was not concerned that Patek could soon be released from prison.

"It doesn't worry me. I have no issue with it. The Indonesian judicial system is a little ... different to us, I guess," Hughes said.

I'm Faith Pirlo.

Dan Novak adapted this story based on reporting by The Associated Press.


Words in This Story

tourist –n. a person who travels to places for pleasure and enjoyment

trauma — n. an experience that is damaging and that causes mental and emotional problems for a person

coma — n. a state in which an injured person is asleep and unconscious for a long time