Much has changed around Bali’s famed Kuta district. About 25 years ago, travellers could be seen hopping on a horse and cart. Now, suburban tourists from Australia and Europe grab a taxi. The population has grown markedly over this period, with the island’s homogenous Hindus giving ground to Java’s Muslims.
People are educated, the wealth here is undeniable. Throughout the area, enormous changes have been sustained by a feel good factor that was born out of the local culture – from the countryside to the districts of Sanur, Kuta, Legian and Seminyak down to Echo Beach.
But in the past decade, the mood has been challenged by Islamic militancy and deadly bombings. And it was again tested in recent weeks by Umar Patek, the last of a long list of Bali bombers to be captured or killed by the authorities, who gave investigators an inside look into his handiwork.
Escorted by counter-terrorism squad Detachment 88, Patek took court officials on a re-enactment tour, detailing how Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) carried out the bombing of the two Kuta-Legian nightclubs on October 12, 2002 – an attack which left 202 people dead – and how he manufactured the bombs.
He was joined by another five terrorists linked to the bombing and currently serving life sentences – Ali Imron, Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mubarok, Sawad and Idris – for the reconstruction, which in Indonesian legal fare is considered normal and intrinsic to investigations.
Patek certainly held the spotlight. Attired in Arabic dress and sporting a long beard, crowds jockeyed for position to catch a macabre glimpse of the man blamed for so many deaths and who had a $1 million bounty on his head.
The tour included Jalan Pulau Menjangan in Denpasar, where bombs were built and stored; the United States consulate, where a bomb was exploded on the same evening; rented rooms on Jalan Gatot Subroto; and the sites of the Sari Club and Paddy’s Pub, where the main bombs were detonated.
Role play included a lift to a bus terminal on a motorcycle originally driven by JI acolyte Dulmatin, who was shot dead by police last year, and the interaction between the bombers. Amid the re-enactments, Patek surprised many by claiming he attempted to dissuade the bombers from going ahead with the strike.He told the Jakarta Globe that he had nothing to do with the bombings or the preparing of explosives.
Patek had trained in Afghanistan in 1994 alongside other JI members, and said he didn’t consider Indonesia to be a part of the jihad arena. He says he urged JI bombing coordinator Imam Samudra to cancel the attack and re-focus on the Holy War in Pakistan instead.
‘I only advised him, but the planning for the Bali bombing was almost done and could not (be) possibly cancelled,’ he reportedly said. ‘I wanted to live and wage jihad in Afghanistan. It is a jihad area because Muslims have indisputably been colonized by America and NATO.’
The exercise ended at Ground Zero. A memorial to the dead now stands where Paddy’s Pub once served up cocktails to thirsty tourists. The site of the Sari Club is a derelict car park. Here, Ali Imron and Imam Sumadra gave their insights on the preparation for the bombing.
Indonesian authorities have all but wiped out JI and its more radical offshoot Jama’ah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), but their demise has left a vacuum and a guessing game has emerged within intelligence circles about who is stepping into the breach.
Targets have become smaller and localized, like the first suicide bombing inside an Indonesian Mosque at Cirebon. Five people have been arrested in connection with the April attack, which was also linked to an earlier strike on a church.
The Southern Philippines has shown a similar pattern, with smaller confined splinter groups forming out of larger groups that once were the core of rebellion and insurgency. Of particular note are the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement and Awliyah, commanded by Hatib Zacaria.
While his peers faced execution and years behind bars, Patek had hidden out in the Southern Philippines before travelling back to Pakistan where he attempted to re-establish old contacts with al-Qaeda. He was captured on January 25 near Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was killed three months later.
The head of Indonesia’s National Counter Terrorism Agency, Ansyaad Mbai, has claimed Patek had travelled to Pakistan intending to meet bin Laden and plot another wave of terrorist attacks timed for the 10th anniversary of the September 11 strikes on New York and Washington.
Patek has also been implicated in the running of a terrorist training school alongside Dulmatin in Banten that was apparently used to find recruits for a paramilitary training camp in the Jalin Jantho mountains in Aceh, where rebels had been fighting for an independent homeland.
On the streets of Kuta, the sight of a smiling and laughing red-bearded Patek was reminiscent of Ali Amrozi bin Haji Nurhasyim, who was known as the ‘Smiling Bomber’ for his jocular attitude to his victims and the trial that handed him the death sentence.
He was shot in November 2008 by firing squad alongside Imam Samudra and Huda bin Abdul Haq.
Adding to the creepy feeling were the anniversaries. Patek’s tour fell around the ninth anniversary of JI’s first Bali bombing and the sixth anniversary of a second bomb that left another 20 dead and 100 injured at Jimbaran and Kuta on October 1, 2005.
Despite his denials, investigators insist that Patek was a central figure in Indonesia’s jihad movement and the Bali bombing, and he was likely to be charged with murder and procession of explosions, which could be extended to the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings of churches across Indonesia.
Patek may have denied his involvement, but he added there were no regrets about his past, stressing that the events had been pre-determined by God.