Ex-terrorists pledge allegiance to Indonesia, decry terrorism as sickness

Tenggulun???, East Java: The first thing former terrorist Ali Fauzi Manzi does when he meets Fairfax Media is apologise to Australia and the 88 Australian victims of the first Bali bombing.

Ali Fauzi is best known to Australians as the brother of the Bali bombers.

In 2008 he oversaw the religious rites on the bodies of Amrozi and Mukhlas - who were executed on the penal island of Nusakambangan - and sent a text message to relatives in Arabic saying: "They are with the Almighty".

"Again, I would like to apologise for what my brothers did," Ali Fauzi tells Fairfax Media. "They have been executed or are spending their life in prison. Their actions cost many lives."

Ali Fauzi studied bomb-making and between 2004 and 2007 was jailed for terrorism offences in the Philippines, where he had helped build a military training camp for extremists.

Ten metres from where he is standing in Tenggulun village in the Lamongan regency of East Java is Amrozi's old home.

"The bombings, all over Indonesia, you could say originated from here," Ali Fauzi says. "At one point there was [sic] 13 tonnes of explosives here before they got distributed to other places such as Ambon and Poso."

Lamongan, once dubbed the birthplace of terrorists, is still a hotbed of extremism.

But Ali Fauzi hopes the Circle of Peace foundation he started in November last year, which provides a transit house and job opportunities for ex-terrorists, can start to defuse the radical ideology.

On Thursday a motley crew of ex-terrorists and combatants and their families joined Indonesian Independence Day celebrations for the first time as an indication of their new-found commitment to Indonesia and its pluralistic ideology of Pancasila.

The men in charge of raising the Indonesian flag included the son of Bali Bomber Amrozi, Zulia Mahendra, who long nursed feelings of vengeance and anger against the country that executed his father.

The commander of the ceremony was a former student of an Islamic State commander in Syria while Ali Fauzi read the 1945 independence proclamation text.

"My pledge to Indonesia is real," Ali Fauzi says. "My pledge is loving the nation. Islam respects other religions, even if Indonesia became an Islamic country that does not mean it would get rid of other religions. That's what I believe now."

Ali Fauzi describes terrorism as a sickness, that requires a "special doctor". "It took me seven years to be the 'now Ali Fauzi'," he says. The first six months of his deradicalisation process - an education "half-forced" upon him by Indonesian police after he was deported from the Philippines in 2007 was "torture for me".

"At first I resisted, I couldn't let go of my own beliefs, I complained, I argued with the Islam they taught, the so-called moderate Islam. After six months I realised I was less angry."

One of the turning points was meeting victims of terrorist attacks, including Dutchman Max Boon, who lost both his legs in the 2009 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta.

"I apologised to him. He's a Catholic, he said to me: 'I already forgave the perpetrator, let alone you'. He forgave me. If it was reversed, if I was in his position, I don't think I could forgive as easily."

Ali Fauzi says his old belief is wrong that kafir (unbelievers) should be killed wherever they are, something he says Islamic State calls for.

The mission of Circle of Peace is to provide a new community for ex-terrorists to prevent them returning to their old networks because they have no other alternatives.

"To get them to join the foundation is not an abracadabra moment. It starts when they are in prison, I visit them, I assist with problems they face, financially, their families. Once they are released we assist them to get jobs. We so far have assisted seven ex-terrorists to get jobs with my business friends. It's still a long way to go."

The head of Indonesia's national counter-terrorism agency Suhardi Alius last month inaugurated a mosque and Koran learning centre in Tenggulun, which will preach moderate Islam.

"Nationwide there are 560 ex-terrorism convicts," he tells Fairfax Media. "It means their children, their wives, their community has been exposed to radicalism."

He says Lamongan is an epicentre of terrorism but thanks to the Circle of Peace: "now there are 37 ex-terrorism convicts there who are now on our side".

"Altogether they have around 100 children. Can you imagine how many lives we can save by taking this approach?"

This story Ex-terrorists pledge allegiance to Indonesia, decry terrorism as sickness first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.