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A Decade in Defiance of Terrorism
By Hon John Howard
The Bali attack in October 2002 rocked Australia to its very core. It was an act of murderous
terrorism, claiming the most Australian lives in a single incident outside the country, except
in wartime. It was a naked demonstration of Islamic extremism. As so many Australians
holiday in Bali, and given its proximity, it was almost as if the attack had taken place on
Australian soil.
Those responsible for the attack showed little remorse. It was an exercise in blind fanaticism
that we will always find difficult to understand. Yet understand its motivations we must, if
we are to maintain successful vigilance against terrorism.
More than 200 people, including 88 Australians, died in the attack. The terrorists wanted to
show their hatred of the Western way of life. They murdered people doing a very normal
thing: having a good time. They cared nothing for the indiscriminate nature of their attack.
Fellow Indonesians, as well as Westerners, died or were horribly injured.
They would have cared nothing for the relationship between Indonesia and Australia. If
they had given it any thought, they would have hoped their deeds would create a greater
gulf between the two countries.
Advertisement As most of the perpetrators died at the hands of an Indonesian firing squad,
they will never know that their attack has had the opposite effect.
The Bali attack was a time of great testing for Australia, and our character as a nation was
not found wanting. We cared for the injured, we comforted the bereaved and, with our
Indonesian friends, sought and brought to justice those responsible.
If there can be a legacy of a tragedy such as Bali other than the pain and grief of those who
lost loved ones, then it can truly be said that out of this dreadful deed Australia and
Indonesia grew closer together. I am sure that Mukhlas, Samudra and Amrozi - three of the
Bali murderers - would not have wanted that. To them, Australia epitomised Western evil.
The co-operation between the Indonesian and Australian police was immediate. It was
fortunate that Mick Keelty, then commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, and General
Pastika, the man charged with the Indonesian investigation, had become friends years
earlier at a police management course in Canberra. Almost within minutes of the attack,
Keelty had been in touch with his opposite number, General Da'i Bachtiar, to begin planning
the operation that would track down and bring to justice those responsible for the atrocity.
Three days after the attack, the then foreign affairs minister, Alexander Downer, travelled to
Jakarta with the commissioner and senior intelligence officers. There he saw Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono, then co-ordinating minister covering security issues, later the President of
Indonesia, and a true friend of Australia. That meeting began a process of intense cooperation between security agencies and other authorities of the two countries. Their brief
was to catch those responsible. This they did most successfully, and out of that effort grew
unprecedented levels of collaboration between Indonesian intelligence, the intelligence
services of Australia, the CIA and Britain's MI6.
This evil attack would bring a closer relationship between Australia and Indonesia, taking it
to a level of intimacy not previously experienced. There would emerge the interfaith
dialogue, which brought together representatives of Christian denominations, the Jewish
faith, Buddhism and, of course, Islam, united by a common abhorrence of terrorism and
based on the peaceful nostrums of all those religions.
Two days later, I went to Bali with John Anderson, then deputy prime minister, and Simon
Crean, the leader of the opposition. This visit was above any semblance of party politics. I
spent a great deal of time with the relatives and friends of the 88 Australians who had died.
They were a group of grieving Australians, bewildered by what had happened, each in their
own way trying to come to terms with their devastating losses and drawing support and
comfort from being together in such tragic circumstances.
Many would come to display great stoicism, as they waited days longer than they might
have hoped as the slow and painstaking process of identifying victims, horribly burnt or
mutilated, was completed.
They desperately wanted to take their loved ones home, but they quietly accepted the need
for proper identification processes. A mistaken identification would only multiply the
intense agony already being experienced.
Before I left Bali, I called at the AFP operations centre, already in full swing and under the
control of Graham Ashton - now deputy commissioner of the Victoria Police - who had been
the AFP liaison officer in Jakarta and spoke fluent Bahasa (Indonesian). It comprised about a
dozen Australian police officers and two officers from Scotland Yard; 34 British citizens had
died in the attack.
Ten years on, we remember with sadness the great loss of so many Australians; we thank
the Indonesian authorities for their
co-operation in bringing to justice those responsible, and we renew our commitment to fight
terrorism in all its forms and finally, and importantly, we should calmly note that far from
this terrible act driving a wedge between Australia and Indonesia, it had the opposite effect.
The perpetrators had wanted to sow greater hatred. In that, they failed.
John Howard was prime minister at the time of the Bali bombings.
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