One of the Bali bombers responsible for the deaths of more than 200 people in 2002 is trying to help Indonesia’s police catch terrorists.
Ali Imron drove the van that blew Bali’s Sari Club apart in 2002 but he has always been the repentant bomber and since 2004 he has assisted Indonesia’s police with their hunt for terrorists.
Now, allowed out of prison for an exclusive interview with ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing program, Imron said he is making tapes to spread his anti-terrorism message.
Letting him speak out is just one part of Indonesia’s ground-breaking and controversial counter-terrorism strategy.
The flying pigs of Indonesia
Inspired by an extreme understanding of his faith, Imron played a critical role in the first Bali bombings that ripped apart the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar on October 12, 2002, killing 88 Australians.
“After we assembled the Sari Club bomb and loaded it onto the van, I installed the detonator as well as the detonators for the vest bomb and the for the US consulate bomb,” he explained through an interpreter.
“I then taught the two suicide bombers how to trigger the explosions.
“I was the one who delivered the US consulate bomb to its destination and I ended up driving the van to the Sari club after discovering the suicide bombers couldn’t drive, handing over the vehicle at the last moment.”
Unlike his brothers, Imron escaped the death penalty because he showed remorse for his actions.
“I will continue to ask for forgiveness from the victims and their families, from anyone affected by violence in which I was involved,” he said.
“I will never stop asking for forgiveness.”
Out of jail
It would be inconceivable in Australia, but Indonesia has let Imron out of jail to tell his story to Background Briefing.
Indonesian police say he is now a potent force for counter-terrorism, and they want Australia to know how Imron is working to stop further violence.
In a Jakarta hotel room, flanked by a prison guard, Imron was calm and quietly focused as he explained his new form of jihad.
“I help police because I know what the terrorists think,” he said.
“I know how they will try to get their weapons and explosives. I know what kind of place they will target for what kind of action and I know how they would carry that out.
“I know how to hide from the police on the run, how the terrorists recruit new members and who is most vulnerable to the radical message.
“I am giving all this information to police so I can stop violence and terrorism.”
JI’s secrets revealed
It might be cold comfort for his victims and their families, but now Imron is revealing trade secrets of terror group Jemaah Islamiah.
Further, he claims to have considerable influence outside prison.
He says students at his family’s Islamic boarding school would become suicide bombers if he asked them to. Instead, Imron sends them the opposite message.
“Since I was jailed in Bali, I’ve been writing a book and other materials about my ideas,” he said.
“Also every time my family or friends visit me, or I send a message to others outside prison, I always say it was a mistake to carry out the bombings. It was the wrong kind of jihad.”
Part of Imron’s new type of jihad, or spiritual struggle in God’s name, is sending cassettes to his family’s east Java school. But he has some competition: his unrepentant brother and fellow bomber, Ali Ghufron, who is known as Mukhlas.
Mukhlas is on death row and is also hard at work making cassettes for the al-Islam school, but urging the students to become terrorists.
Imron says it is a battle for influence.
“Mukhlas and I both send letters and cassettes to al-Islam,” he said.
“It’s a tough thing to deal with personally and tough for the teachers there because I ask the students to follow my example while Mukhlas calls them to carry out violent jihad.
“We will have to wait and see who wins this battle for influence.”
Imron says he has had some success in dissuading people from violent forms of jihad.
“Yes, there are success stories, thank God,” he said.
“None of my students or former students are involved in terrorism and none of my close friends are involved. But there’s more to do and I’ll keep working to stop terrorism.”