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Australians bore brunt of Bali bombings

world Updated: Oct 11, 2012 14:35 IST
AFP
Sydney

When two bombs tore through Bali's party strip in Indonesia 10 years ago Australians bore the brunt of an outrage that blew away any conception that they were immune from terrorist attacks.

Of the 21 nations whose citizens died in the tourist area of Kuta on October 12, 2002, Australia suffered by far the greatest loss with 88 lives wiped out.

"The Bali attack rocked Australia to its very core," recalled John Howard, who was prime minister at the time.

"It was an exercise in blind fanaticism that we will always find difficult to understand," he said this week.

The carnage was blamed on the al Qaeda-linked terror network Jemaah Islamiyah and it had the potential to seriously hurt ties between the two neighbouring countries -- one predominately Muslim and the other mostly Christian.

But ultimately it achieved the opposite.

"The Bali attack was a time of great testing for Australia, and our character as a nation was not found wanting," Howard added.

"Importantly, we should calmly note that far from this terrible act driving a wedge between Australia and Indonesia, it had the opposite effect. The perpetrators had wanted to sow greater hatred. In that, they failed."

The two countries have since developed a multifaceted relationship, with burgeoning trade, investment, cultural and political links.

Counter-terrorism cooperation has also grown significantly since the atrocity, with Australia's department of foreign affairs saying ties have never been stronger.

The bombings triggered a long crackdown on extremists in Indonesia, with squads trained by Australian and US police conducting bloody raids on those involved.

Most of the men responsible have now been either jailed or executed.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was Indonesia's security affairs minister at the time, becoming president in 2004, and Howard paid tribute to his efforts in building relations since the attack.

"He has done much with myself and my successors as prime ministers of Australia to bring our two countries together," he said of Yudhoyono, who has visited Australia more times than any of his predecessors.

For the families of those who perished and the dozens of holidaymakers who were injured, some horribly, it has been a long decade.

"For me, 700kg of explosives in a van outside the front of the Sari Club, probably 20 to 25 metres from me, changed my life forever," survivor Phil Britten, who was 22 at the time, told reporters.

Britten was on an end-of-season trip with his friends from Perth's Kingsley Football Club when a bomb ripped through the Sari Club as they sipped their drinks.

Seven of the Australian rules football team were killed and 13 survived.

"Probably the worst part was hearing the screams start, going from nothing to the slow moaning and groaning of men and females screaming for their life," said Britten, who suffered serious burns.

Many of the wounded Australians were transferred to the Royal Darwin Hospital by Australian air force planes, suffering from blast trauma, burst eardrums and shrapnel wounds.

The hospital's emergency medicine director Didier Palmer said initially it was chaos, but his team rose to the challenge and it has had lasting consequences.

"It was an awakening for Australia," he told the ABC.

"It also drove a lot of improvement in medical preparedness across the country."

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is due in Indonesia for the 10th anniversary, despite a security alert over a terrorist threat to the ceremony in Bali, and she vowed never to forget what happened.

"It was a moment of horror that had a profound effect on Australia as a nation and on the lives of survivors and the family and loved ones of those who died," Gillard said.

"Forgetting would be the ultimate injustice -- and we will never forget."