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Last surviving Bali bomber’s apology dismissed by victims

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Pictures of Bay Ismoyo. Video by Agnes Anya and Bagus Saragih.

The last surviving bomber of the Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people two decades ago expressed regret over Southeast Asia’s deadliest terror attack before his 20th birthday on Wednesday, but victims dismissed his apologies.

Ali Imron has been 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.

“I will regret it until I die. And I will apologize until I die,” he told AFP, without handcuffs, in front of an Indonesian flag and a photo of President Joko Widodo in front of the vast Jakarta Metro Police Headquarters.

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

“When people are in an impasse, they say anything to get out of trouble,” said Thiolina Marpaung, a 47-year-old survivor who suffers permanent eye damage.

“He said that because he was sentenced to life.”

Imron helped organize 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 52-year-old is the only suicide bomber in Bali still alive after the attack.

Now he languishes in a facility for drug offenders, instead of prison, after claiming repentance and aiding Indonesia’s de-radicalization 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 leaking the plot to investigators.

The convicted mass murderer is now aiding the Indonesian government in a deradicalization program that experts criticize for being ineffective.

Indonesia in August approved the parole of Bali bomber 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.

Ali Imron helped organize the attack, build devices, plant a bomb outside the US consulate in Bali and train attackers

PUTU PASTIKA

But Jakarta delayed his release after angering the Australian government.

“We have made representations to the Indonesian government regarding the release of those convicted for their role in the Bali bombings, noting the distress this would cause to victims and families,” a ministry spokesman told AFP. Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“Ultimately, these are matters for the Indonesian government and its domestic legal processes.”

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

Imron is hoping for a similar ruling on his sentence. He said he filed for a presidential pardon this year but received no response.

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

Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency, Ministry of Justice and a presidential adviser did not respond to a request for comment.

While the program’s conditions for early release are strict – participants must pledge allegiance to Indonesia and disavow their networks – the potential release of convicted mass murderers is highly controversial.

Experts criticize the leniency for militants like Imron who have aligned themselves with the now-banned Jemaah Islamiyah group, Indonesia’s thinly-knit al-Qaeda network.

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

Imron said he acted on his older brother’s orders after the US invasion of Afghanistan, but now calls it a “bad act of jihad”.

He claimed to have since contributed to the de-radicalization of at least 400 jihadists. He also ran a cartoon campaign that preached tolerance to young Indonesians.

If released, he said he would “continue to walk the path of a de-radicalization campaign”.

It’s a message analysts said Imron may be promoting in hopes of securing an early release.

He was also speaking in the presence of an officer from Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism unit.

Foreign tourists visit the memorial to victims of the 2002 Bali bombings ahead of the 20th anniversary of the blasts

SONNY TUMBALAKA

“It’s part of his survival mechanism. It’s something he has to say,” said Southeast Asia terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail.

It is difficult to say whether Imron truly de-radicalized, his word being his only evidence.

He showed little emotion as he spoke of the attack and sought to re-emphasize his work fighting extremism despite being a jailed extremist himself.

Either way, Imron wants to tell the people whose lives he impacted that his actions were wrong.

“I will always apologize to them,” he said.

But for Marpaung, only God can judge Imron.

“Please don’t reduce your sentence,” she said.

“He may say he’s repented and changed, but only God really knows the truth.”