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Australian politicians reacted with outrage on Friday after hearing that Indonesia’s anti-terror chief had hosted a party for breaking the Ramadan fast that was attended by some 20 convicted Islamist terrorists.
The guests included two men imprisoned for involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing in which 88 of the 202 fatalities were Australian.
Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the attack on Friday, John Howard, Australian prime minister, said he was “disgusted” that Brigadier General Surya Dharma had hosted the men and said a formal complaint would be made to Jakarta. He told local radio that the idea of the bombers being treated as equals by Brig Gen Dharma because of their shared Muslim faith was absurd.
Kevin Rudd, Australia’s opposition Labor party leader, said the decision to let the men out of jail to attend the party two weeks ago was inappropriate and “grossly insensitive”.
Jakarta-based diplomats and terrorism experts were surprised by the strong reactions. It is common knowledge that Indonesian counter-terrorism officials have been using a “soft” approach for more than three years to deradicalise militants and persuade them to inform on pending attacks. “I think the reaction was linked to the timing,” said one diplomat.
Indonesia, which suffered a major terrorist attack every year from 2002 until 2005, has prosecuted more than 200 Islamists over the last five years for terrorist-related offences. There have been no significant incidents for more than two years.
Earlier this year, Alexander Downer, Australia’s foreign minister, said: “If you want an example of a country that’s done a good job in dealing with the issue of terrorism and radicalism then exhibit A is Indonesia.”
Kirsten Schulze, an Indonesia expert at the London School of Economics who attended a similar party last month, said: “The events are for people deemed susceptible to deradicalisaiton. They’re not for people who are not repentant. They’re for people who have already started co-operating.”
The government sometimes also offers to pay children’s school fees and medical bills for co-operative militants.