A tribute to the victims
Published/Last edited or updated: 11th July, 2017
On October 12, 2002, three terrorist bombs were detonated in Bali. This memorial pays tribute to the 202 victims of the devastating attacks.
The Saturday was just another party night in Kuta. It was the end of the football season in Australia and lots of Australians were on end-of-season tours and out for a bit of fun. European tourists were among the revellers too, making the most of an extended summer break. Taxi drivers and sellers were milling around on the streets, trying to make a buck. Just as Kuta’s nightclubs were reaching full capacity at around 23:00, a series of bombs ripped though the crowds, killing and maiming hundreds of partygoers and bystanders in a vicious attack. The effect was catastrophic and Bali’s medical facilities were quickly overwhelmed. Many people suffered horrifying burns and some of the worst treated were air-evacuated to Darwin and Perth in Australia for further care.
The incident was to have a devastating effect on Bali’s (and the rest of Indonesia’s) tourist industry, critically damaging Bali’s reputation as safe and peaceful haven to let your hair down.
Two bombs were detonated in Kuta. The first was in a backpack carried by a suicide bomber into popular Paddy’s Bar, causing many to flee into the street outside where, seconds later, a powerful car bomb was exploded in front of the Sari Club. The bomb left a crater one metre deep and blew out windows. The bomb at Paddy’s ignited gas bottles, causing an intense fireball and more casualties. A third bomb was set off outside the US consulate in Denpasar which caused only minor damage, but sent a blatant message: It was packed with excrement.
The final death toll was 202 people, with another 209 injured. A number of unidentified marginalised people, most likely immigrants from other Indonesian islands, are also believed to have been casualties, but were not counted in the official toll. Among the identified dead were 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians and nationals from more than 20 nations.
The perpetrators were Indonesian members of a violent radical Islamic group called Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), led by extremist cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. According to one of the bombers, the supposed reasoning for the attacks was to kill as many Americans as possible as “revenge for what Americans have done to Muslims”. A claim that the bombings were revenge for Australia’s role in Timor Leste’s independence by Osama bin Laden were put aside as political opportunism.
Six years after the bombings, three Indonesians who were convicted of directly carrying out the bombings were executed by a firing squad. Others involved served light sentences or remain free. Hambali, an Indonesian national believed to be the mastermind of the bombings(and the link between JI and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda group) had been captured in Thailand in 2003 and was later transferred to the US Guantanamo Bay detention centre. In June 2017, almost 15 years after the attacks, he was officially charged with the Bali bombings.
On the second anniversary of the attacks, a monument dedicated to those who lost their lives was unveiled in Kuta at the former location of Paddy’s Bar.
The Bali Bombing Memorial (Tugu Peringatan Bom Bali), also known as the Ground Zero Monument, sits on Jalan Legian, close to the corner of Poppies Lane II. Today the party continues around the street: Bali has well and truly bounced back. Erected on a raised platform and fenced off from the surrounding area, the large elaborately carved white stone shrine embodies symbolism from Balinese Hinduism. Taken from the wayan kulit (shadow puppets) the kayon or tree of life is the pathway that connects the earthly world with that of the spirits; in the performance it represents the beginning and the end. The symbolic tree is supported by wings, adding to the mystical transcendent significance and guarded by a Bhoma image, the guardian of holy shrines in Bali who drives away evil spirits. Beneath this a more Western-style black marble plaque lists the names and nationalities of the victims, carved in gold. Small personal tributes have been placed along the plinth. Eleven flagpoles flank either side of the monument, representing the 22 nations who lost citizens, although there were no flags present when we visited in June 2017, and the monument itself was rather dirty, blackened by pollution. The small slimy pond at the base could do with a clean up too. Illuminated at night, however, it looks a majestic and fitting memorial.
The site is significant for Western visitors who recall the events and usually take a few solemn moments to reflect on the fragility of life. For younger selfie-stick-wielding, and predominantly non-Western tourists, it’s more for the I’ve-been-to-Bali-too location snaps (often to the chagrin of the former). The Australian consulate in Denpasar also has a memorial to the Australian victims, and other memorials to this tragic event have been erected around the world. The Bali Bombing Memorial is open 24 hours with a round-the-clock police guard.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.