TENGGULUN, Indonesia (AP) — The Balinese widow stared across the courthouse at the man who had murdered her husband and 201 others and longed to see him suffer.
Ever since that horrible night, when she realized amid the blackened body parts that the father of her two little boys was dead, Ni Luh Erniati's rage at the men behind the bombing had eaten away at her. She wanted everyone associated with the 2002 attack on the Indonesian island of Bali to be executed by firing squad. And she wanted to be the one to pull the trigger.
She lunged toward defendant Amrozi Nurhasyim before others pulled her back, halting her bid for vengeance.
What would happen a decade later between her and Amrozi's brother — the man who had taught Amrozi how to make bombs — was unthinkable in that moment. Unthinkable that they would make a delicate attempt at reconciliation.
The practice of reconciling former terrorists and victims is rare and, to some, abhorrent. Yet it is gaining attention in Indonesia, which is grappling with Islamic extremism.
Last year, Indonesia's government brought together dozens of former Islamic militants and victims for what was billed as a reconciliation conference. The results were mixed, and the idea viewed by many as radical.
More quietly, over the past several years, there has been a growing alliance of former terrorists and victims brought together under the guidance of a group founded by the victim of a terrorist attack. Since 2013, 49 victims and six former extremists have reconciled through the Alliance for a Peaceful Indonesia, or AIDA. They have visited around 150 schools in parts of Indonesia known as hotbeds for extremist recruiters, sharing their stories with more than 8,000 students.
The hope is that if former terrorists and victims can learn to see each other as human, they can stop the cycle of vengeance.
Those behind this peacebuilding effort would never argue that it can turn every terrorist and heal every victim. The process is extraordinarily complex. Yet much can be gained from victims and perpetrators learning to understand each other, says Brunilda Pali, a board member of the European Forum for Restorative Justice. Understanding someone, she cautions, does not mean legitimizing what they’ve done.
For Erniati, there was nothing at first to understand. How could she possibly understand something so horrific?
As Erniati searched for answers, Ali Fauzi searched his soul.
The Bali bombings, which targeted Western tourists at a nightclub and nearby pub, were carried out by al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiyah. Though Fauzi was the group’s chief bombmaking instructor, and though three of his brothers helped orchestrate the attack, Fauzi says he knew nothing of the plot.
His brothers, Amrozi, Ali Imron and Ali Ghufron — who often went by the alias Mukhlas — were charged with the attack, along with several other Jemaah Islamiyah members. Fauzi was never charged, but spent months in police detention in Jakarta. It was there that the kindness of a police officer began to chip away at his convictions about people he had long seen as the enemy.
Yet it wasn't until years later, when he met a Dutch man named Max Boon, that Fauzi truly understood the horror of his life's work.
Boon was severely injured during a 2009 suicide bombing in Jakarta. Police suspected the attack had been orchestrated by Jemaah Islamiyah.
The attack hadn't shaken Boon’s faith in the goodness of humans. He believed that had the bomber met him, he might have realized Boon wasn’t his enemy.
Boon threw himself into peacebuilding efforts. Fauzi, meanwhile, was working to help deradicalize violent extremists. The pair met in 2013 at a terrorism awareness conference.
As Fauzi listened to Boon talk about peace, his heart cracked. That Boon could forgive those who had caused him such pain rocked Fauzi to his core.
Boon had already been planning a project in which terrorism victims would share their stories with students in areas targeted by extremist recruiters. Fauzi agreed to help, and to meet other victims.
Which is how Erniati found herself sitting with Fauzi in a meeting arranged by AIDA. His grin enraged her.
As Erniati began to tell her story, Fauzi felt anguish. The image of Erniati searching for her husband at the blast site, of her struggles to raise their sons alone, was unbearable.
Fauzi wished he could erase everything he'd ever known about bombs.
"I'm sorry," he said, weeping. "I'm very sorry."
Erniati felt something shift within her. Fauzi was in pain, just as she was.
What he said meant less to her than what he felt. To Erniati, apologies are just words. But the ability to understand another person’s suffering, she says, goes to the core of who you are.
Her anger began to lift.
Over the next few years, Erniati and Fauzi grew closer. They visited schools with AIDA, sharing their story of reconciliation. Fauzi started a foundation to help deradicalize extremists.
The victims in AIDA’s programs are all voluntary, Boon says. The foundation also carefully vets the former extremists who join to ensure they have truly reformed.
Fauzi acknowledges that reconciliation wouldn't work for everyone.
"I realize that humans are different from one another," he says. "So it's not easy to take their hearts as a whole."
Today, he and Erniati are close friends. Fauzi still wrestles with guilt, but Erniati's acceptance of him has lessened the sting.
Erniati continues to meet with former militants. She hopes her story can put them on the right path. Her sadness returns on occasion. But her anger is gone.
During a visit to Fauzi’s village, she pauses near the gravesite of Amrozi and Mukhlas, both executed in 2008.
Someday, she says, she would like to place flowers on their graves and send up a prayer. Because if God can forgive them, even if she can’t, then maybe their spirits can help bring the world what Fauzi’s friendship helped bring her: peace.