Indonesia brings together former militants and attack survivors

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Jakarta—Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency on Wednesday held a controversial meeting of 124 former militants and 51 survivors of a string of attacks in the country, including the deadly Bali bombings.

The gathering was part of a broader deradicalisation push by authorities in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, which has pioneered new initiatives to tackle the problem.

Chusnul Kotimah, who was badly burned in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people, said she was prepared to forgive those behind the attacks.

“I can accept the situation. I can forgive them,” she told Reuters at the event in a central Jakarta hotel, adding that she had told former militants that as a fellow Muslims there was no justification for such terror.

Nonetheless, the head of a survivors’ group who decided not to go criticised holding a mass meeting under the glare of the media. Other survivors said they needed more support and medical help from authorities.

“The mass reconciliation by BNPT (Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency) is too risky for the victims, in terms of their mental state and psychology, and for their trauma,” said Sucipto Hari Wibowo, co-founder of the Indonesian Survivors Foundation and a survivor of the 2004 Australian embassy attack in Jakarta.

But Indonesia’s chief security minister, Wiranto, who uses one name like many Indonesians, said he wanted such events to be held regularly. Also attending were the country’s social, higher education and manpower ministers, who pledged to help survivors with health care and employment.

A former militant said meeting survivors had helped him understand the suffering of attack victims.

“I think this is the most effective way of deradicalisation, because in the past there were some terrorists who (until they met the victims) were not aware that their deeds were wrong,” said Sofyan Tsauri, who was convicted of supplying weapons to a militant training camp in the province of Aceh.

Indonesia has suffered a series of major militant attacks over the years, the worst of which was the 2002 Bali bombing, which spurred Western nations offer help in forming an elite counter-terrorism unit that has proved effective.

But recent years have seen a resurgence in home-grown militancy, largely inspired by Islamic State. Hundreds of Indonesians are believed to have travelled to Syria to join the group, but many have returned as it has lost territory.

It was only human to still hold on to anger, said Deny Mahieu, a police officer wounded in the right leg during 2016 bomb and gun attacks in central Jakarta, after meeting one of the suspects in his case.

“But… if we still feel vengeful it will not solve the problem,” he said.

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