Ni Luh Erniati lost her husband 20 years ago in the triple bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that claimed 202 lives, and it took a long time for her to come to terms with her anger.

I Gede Badrawan, head waiter at Sari Club, was among those killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the popular night spot in Bali's busy tourist area of Kuta on Oct. 12, 2002, leaving Erniati with two children.

The anger that filled her heart only lessened in recent years, after she realized that it would only bring her more pain and vengeance would not give her peace of mind.

The 52-year-old was lost for words when in late September she finally met Umar Patek, the bomb maker, at Porong Prison in East Java Province. The so-called Demolition Man rushed to her, cried and kissed her feet.

Photo taken Oct. 12, 2022, shows a memorial for the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings in the Kuta resort area of Bali, Indonesia. (Kyodo)

"He begged for forgiveness," she said, recalling their one-hour meeting. "I touched his hands and told him that I had already forgiven him."

Erniati's meeting with Patek was arranged by the counterterrorism police unit Detachment 88, named after the 88 Australians killed in the blasts, as part of the government's so-called deradicalization program for convicts who were formerly terrorists.

Detachment 88, working with the National Counterterrorism Agency, claims that the program has changed the radical thinking of hundreds of former terrorists.

"Their mindsets have drastically changed. In particular, they regret what they did," the agency's chief, Boy Rafli Amar, told Kyodo News in a recent interview.

Amar claimed that more than 90 percent of the around 900 terrorism-linked detainees had voluntarily joined the program, which provides a dialogue with experts who convince them that violence is not the way to find a solution for their grievances.

The inmates were also taught "to be more tolerant and to accept differences of religion and ethnicity," the police general said.

At the end of the program, which also includes entrepreneurship training, the participants must pledge their loyalty to the state in return for reduced sentences.

Marthinus Hukom, chief of Detachment 88, said separately that Patek was one of the success stories of the program and a "model" case for reforming other militants.

Patek and Ali Imron, another convicted Bali bomber, are set to appear in a counterterrorism campaign video to be released on YouTube this month.

Patek became eligible for conditional release in August after his prison sentence was reduced from 20 years.

His release, however, has been delayed due to opposition from survivors of the bombings and relatives of the victims. The Australian government has also objected to his release.

Hukom pointed out that one of the key tasks ahead is to prepare the ground for the public to embrace the convicted former terrorists.

"Don't let the stigma of terrorism stay on them forever," he told a group of selected journalists during an interview. "If they are isolated, they will return to their exclusive group."

He added, "We have to create room for reconciliation between the victims and the perpetrators."

Both Amar and Hukom said Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian arm of al-Qaida that was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, and other terrorist networks have been weakened by the arrests of many senior members.

Over the past four years, more than 1,300 arrests have been made, the police said. No organized terrorist attacks have occurred since 2018, when suicide bombers hit three churches in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya, leaving 28 people dead.

"If you want to measure the success (of the program), I can say that in the past two years, no recidivism has been seen," Hukom said.

Amar warned, however, that threats still remain.

"The younger generation (of terrorists) is still active and reorganizing with a different style of operation," he said.

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