“I am an expert bomb maker. I can make bombs in just five minutes.”
Ali Fauzi was a key member of Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group with links to al-Qaeda, which was responsible for Indonesia’s worst attack – the 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people. “My brothers carried out the Bali bombing. It was huge bomb in the heart of the island’s tourist district.”
The group went on to carry out a string of bombings in Indonesia. They were deadly attacks on major hotels and Western embassies. The seemingly sleepy village of Tenggulun in Lamongan, East Java was the group’s base camp.
Now Ali Fauzi’s mission is very different. He works to help former jihadis leave a life of violence and to stop new recruits from joining the next wave of militant groups in South East Asia.
“The reality is that it is much easier to recruit people to terrorist groups,” he says. “They only have to pull a trigger and lots of people will join them but the process of deradicalisation takes time. It has to be done step by step.”
And his new mission has come at a high personal cost.
“The threats against me are intense, it’s not just verbal attacks but death threats. But, honestly, I am not scared because I know what I am doing is right. I am ready and prepared to die doing this.”
It was videos of foreign wars – in Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Palestinian Territories, watched on mobile phones from their quiet Javanese village – that motivated Ali Fauzi and his brothers to join militant groups. “We saw videos of the brutal attacks on civilians. I wanted to carry out jihad to protect the Muslim people from the bullies. With young, hot blood I wanted to fight back.”
While his brothers went to fight alongside the mujahideen, in Afghanistan, Ali Fauzi stayed closer to home, joining Islamic militants fighting for a Muslim homeland in the southern Philippines. “I really wanted to die there. I imagined my own death all the time,” he says. “I believed that if I was killed in battle I would go straight to heaven and be met by angels there. That’s what our mentors told us every day.”
When his brothers returned from Afghanistan, they put into practice what they had learnt abroad. In October 2002, they were among a group that detonated two bombs targeting nightclubs in the Kuta area of Bali, the island popular with international tourists. “I saw it on TV and I was shocked, there were so many dead bodies,” says Ali Fauzi. “It led the authorities right to us.”
Two of his brothers, Ali Ghufron and Amrozi, were executed while his third, Ali Imron, is behind bars for life. Ali Fauzi, who insists he was not involved in the Bali bombing, spent three years in jail for other terror-related offences. That’s when his life took on a dramatically new direction.
“Police treated me very humanely. If they had tortured me then maybe seven generations after me would be fighting the Indonesian government,” he says. “I hated the police, we thought of them as Satan. That’s what we were taught. But the reality was completely different. That’s when my whole perspective completely changed.”