Inferno and Panic at Tropical Retreat; Volunteers Offer Aid as Bombing Casualties Overwhelm Hospitals

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"Inferno and Panic at Tropical Retreat; Volunteers Offer Aid as Bombing Casualties Overwhelm Hospitals"

Bali Bombing

Newspaper article

By: Alan Sipress

Date: October 13, 2002

Source: "Inferno and Panic at Tropical Retreat; Volunteers Offer Aid as Bombing Casualties Overwhelm Hospitals," as published by the Washington Post foreign service.

About the Author: Alan Sipress is a reporter for the Washington Post foreign service.


On October 12, 2002, a terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali killed 194 people and wounded over 300. The bombing had the highest death toll of any single terrorist action since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The terrorist action was later attributed to the militant Islamic separatist group Jemaah Islamiyah, also known as Jamaa Islamiyya, or JI. The investigation into the bombing found that the attack was planned as part of a JI strategy to target cafés and nightclubs in the Asia Pacific region where Westerners would be present.

The bombings took place at two nightclubs in the resort area of the town of Kuta. As a popular holiday destination, the nightclubs were filled mainly with tourists. Bali is particularly popular with Australian visitors and 88 of the casualties were Australian. The casualties also included 38 Indonesians, 26 Britons, 9 Swedes, 7 Americans, and 6 Germans. There were also casualties from other nations.

The bombing involved three separate devices. A small bomb hidden in a backpack was triggered in Paddy's Bar by a suicide bomber. A larger car bomb was detonated by remote control in front of the Sari Club. Another bomb was detonated near the American consulate in Bali, but did not cause any injuries. The explosion and resulting fires caused extensive injuries, with many people trapped inside the burning nightclubs. Bali's hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of burn victims, and many patients were flown to Australia for treatment.

The initial death toll for the bombings was 194, with an additional eight people dying in overseas hospitals as a result of the injuries they sustained. The final death toll was 202.


This resort's main drag, known as Jalan Legian, is a strip of open-air restaurants, sunglass shops, and tattoo parlors. It is the place where surfers, sailors, and sunburned hippies head to tame the tropical heat, downing potent concoctions with names like Jungle Juice when they retire at sunset from the island's famed Indian Ocean beaches.

Bali's most loyal visitors, the Australians, often head to a pair of bars that face each other across Jalan Legian in the heart of Kuta's entertainment district, the Sari Club and Paddy's. Late Saturday the nightclubs were crowded with rugby players and fans from Australia and several other countries in the region, visiting Bali for a tournament.

At the height of the rush, police say, a large Toyota packed with explosives erupted on the street out front, engulfing both clubs in flames. Described by witnesses as a pair of blasts a second apart, the attack devastated the two bars, caving in the roof of the Sari Club with scores of patrons trapped inside. At Paddy's, those who had been drinking upstairs were set afire by burning thatch from the walls and ceiling. Some tried to escape by leaping to the street from the second floor, witnesses said.

"It was just major panic," said Richard Hananeia, 29, an Australian bartender vacationing in Bali. "There was fire on both sides of the street."

At least 188 people were killed. Hospital officials in Bali reported treating almost 300 other victims, including visitors from more than 20 countries on six continents as well as Indonesians. But the largest share by far were Australians, at least 14 of whom were killed.

The casualties overwhelmed Bali's hospitals and clinics. On the sprawling campus of Sanglah hospital in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, the morgue could not accommodate all the dead. About 20 corpses were lined up on a covered outdoor walkway, charred limbs protruding from under sheets. Police pushed back a gawking crowd.

In the steamy, spartan wards inside, the injured, bloody and burned, were arrayed on dozens of paint-chipped metal-frame cots as relatives and volunteers stood beside them, fanning them with pieces of scrap paper, ripped sheets of cardboard and clipboards. Blood supplies appeared to be lacking.

Indonesians and foreigners, some shuffling in a daze and others scrambling breathlessly, crowded through the corridors looking for missing friends and relatives. They thronged around lists of several hundred names posted at the entrance. The names of some were complete and accompanied by nationality. For others, there was only a first name.

While the explosion shattered windows hundreds of yards away and rocked hotel rooms even farther afield, it was only after daybreak today that the Balinese and their guests discovered the extent of the carnage as the death toll soared toward 200.

"It's staggering. It's beyond belief," said Jan Lovett, an Australian who has lived in Bali for 21 years and was volunteering at Sanglah hospital. "The burns are the worst. I don't know how they're ever going to identify people."

At the blast scene, shards of glass crunched under the shoes of investigators as they picked through the smoldering remains of the Sari Club, razed by the explosion and fire. The bar's three-story red sign, once a neighborhood landmark, was reduced to a tower of mangled metal. Nearly 20 buildings nearby were gutted, including the Ticket to the Moon hammock shop and the Aloha swimsuit store. Electrical wires dangled perilously over pools of water.

Some tourists continued their rounds elsewhere in Kuta as if it were any other holiday weekend. They browsed through shops selling traditional wood carvings and batik, attracted by the burning incense that Bali's Hindu shop owners leave out front on the sidewalk. They lingered in the cafes to have coffee and to spread on sunscreen.

But others, such as Mark Tolley, 28, a British computer programmer, headed to the hospitals to volunteer. On Saturday night, he was enjoying the first leg of his round-the-world tour, reading a book in his hotel room down the block from the Sari Club. He heard a blast and then a second, louder one. The windows came crashing in.

"There were people in the street, Australians and Japanese, running, yelling, 'Is everyone alright?'" Tolley said. He said he headed down the street and discovered a young German woman who had been blown out of the club. He took her to the hospital and said he has not left her side since.

Skyler Grant, 15, a Californian, had been having a typical Bali day on Saturday. He had intended to meet some friends at Paddy's but ended up dallying on the beach for several hours after dark. "It was just luck," Grant said. As he stepped out of a van down the block from the bar, he saw the lights suddenly go dark and heard a whirring sound, followed by two blasts. He paused and then ran to the scene to help the victims.

"We were lifting out bodies and chucking them into cars," said Grant, who has lived with his family in Bali for five years. "Our hands were covered with blood."


The bombings were carried out by members of JI, a militant Islamic separatist group whose stated goal is to remove the governments of Southeast Asia and replace them with Islamic states. JI is also considered responsible for various terrorist bombings in Southeast Asia, including a string of bombings of Christian churches in 2000, the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August 2003, and the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004. After the Bali bombings, the U.S. State Department officially classified JI as a foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. State Department also recognized JI as having links with the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

The investigation into the bombings found that it was organized at an initial meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, in February 2002. At this meeting, the terrorist group decided to plan actions against soft targets such as cafés and restaurants in Southeast Asia. This decision was reportedly based on the increased security on other targets such as consulates and embassies. Nightclubs and cafés were selected as targets because of the number of Westerners that would be present.

Mukhlas, who is also known as Ali Gufron, was found guilty of masterminding the attack and sentenced to death on October 2, 2003. Mukhlas is recognized as being the head of JI. Mukhlas was found guilty of both organizing the attack and helping to fund it. His lawyer stated that Mukhlas considered the bombing a form of jihad or holy war. The lawyer also stated that Mukhlas considered the bombing an act of revenge against America's treatment of Muslims in the Middle East.

Abu Bakar Bashir was found guilty of conspiracy relating to the Bali bombings and was sentenced on March 3, 2005, to two and a half years in prison. Bashir is a Muslim cleric with links to al-Qaeda and is reportedly the spiritual leader of JI. The court case of Bashir found that he had no direct involvement in the Bali bombings, except that he had given his approval for the attacks. The lack of direct involvement was the reason for the light sentence. The governments of Australia and the United States both expressed concern that the sentence was too short.

Amrozi bin Haji Nurhasyim was found guilty of planning and carrying out the bombings. The court case found that Amrozi owned the vehicle used in the attack and purchased the explosives. Amrozi was sentenced to death on August 7, 2003.

Imam Samudra was found guilty of organizing the Bali bombings and was sentenced to death on September 10, 2003. The court case described Samudra as the field commander of the attack, including stating that he selected the targets and led the planning meetings.

Ali Imron was found guilty of planning the Bali attacks and sentenced to life imprisonment on September 18, 2003. Imron was found guilty of helping to build the car bomb that was detonated outside the Sari Club. The lighter sentence was based on the court's observation that Imron showed remorse for his actions.

The Bali bombings had a significant impact on antiterrorism laws in Indonesia. Before the Bali bombings, an antiterrorism bill that would allow terrorism suspects to be held without being charged was delayed in parliament based on human rights concerns. Under international pressure due to the Bali bombings, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri approved the new law. The Bali bombings also increased international pressure on Indonesia to take action on threats from terrorist groups operating within the country.



Gunaratna, Rohan. Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific: Threat and Response. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2003.

The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism: White Paper. Singapore: Ministry of Home Affairs, 2003.

Web sites

Sherlock, Stephen. The Bali Bombing: What It Means for Indonesia. <> (accessed June 22, 2005).