True Story

the bali bombings: the true story (1/7)

The documentary series exploring infamous historical events returns for a new run of programmes. The opening instalment examines the most devastating terrorist attack in Asian history, the Bali bombings of 2002. Using reconstructions and interviews with survivors, the film recreates the hour prior to the explosions, and analyses the causes and the consequences of the event that left 202 people dead.

On 12th October, 2002, two busy nightclubs in the town of Kuta, on the island of Bali, Indonesia, were destroyed by Islamic suicide bombers. Hundreds of people were left dead and injured in an attack that was directly inspired by the September 11 atrocities in New York. The group behind the bombings was called ‘Jemaah Islamiyah’ or ‘Islamic Community’, a militant Islamic force based in South East Asia, which has been linked with Al-Qaeda.

This documentary begins with the planning stages of the Bali attack, showing how the terrorists met two months before in a hill town in central Java. Much of the information about the group’s movements and motivations comes from the confession of Ali Imron, the only bomber to express remorse for his actions. “Bali was chosen because that was where the Americans and their allies’ citizens were available,” he says in his testimony. The bombings were supposed to be retaliation for American attacks on Muslims in Afghanistan.

The bombers settled on two targets in the main street of Kuta: Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club, where they observed large congregations of foreigners. Yet one of the Australian investigators into the attack says that the bombers mistook groups of Australian rugby and football players for an American naval crew. “They believed they were blowing up Americans,” says Leigh Dixon. “The fact is, if they’d asked anyone, they’d have found out there were no Americans there.”

The terrorists, including two suicide bombers, planned to set three bombs. The first was a small device outside the American consulate, intended as a taunt to their enemy. The second bomb was a vest of TNT to be worn by one of the bombers and detonated in Paddy’s Bar. The third was a van full of explosives to be set off manually outside the Sari Club. Yet the conspirators also made mistakes: during the preparations, they almost blew themselves up through careless handling of the explosives, while the man chosen to operate the van could not drive.

Young recruit Ali Imron took over the driving duties, and successfully transported the bombers to their targets. The consulate bomb was detonated remotely, before the first suicide bomber set off his device inside Paddy’s Bar. In the ensuing confusion, hundreds of people stumbled outside. “That was the attractor bomb to bring everybody out into the street to kill more people,” says Leigh Dixon. Moments later, the car bomb destroyed the Sari Club. Survivor Hanabeth Luke, who lost her boyfriend in the bombing, recalls the explosion: “I remember being thrown into the air like a rag doll and then just coming down with a thud.”

The scenes of carnage that followed were captured by New Zealand cameraman Richard Poore, who happened to be nearby. British woman Polly Miller, whose husband died in the attack, staggered out of the club on fire. Hanabeth Luke, meanwhile, rescued a dying man from the rubble. As ambulances rushed to the scene, the remaining bombers escaped to the safety of a mosque.

In the investigation that followed, police pursued a clear trail of evidence to catch the terrorists. The men were arrested and confessed to their crimes, yet, as this film shows, their link to Al-Qaeda remains controversial and unproven.

  • BBC One
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