A timeline: How we handled a crisis that shook the nation

Operation Alliance: 2002 Bali Bombings

When three terrorist bombs exploded on the popular tourist island resort of Bali shortly after 11pm on Saturday October 12 2002, the Australian public’s sense of isolation from the global reach of terrorism was shattered.

While the AFP had strengthened its counter-terrorism capabilities following the events of September 11 2001, the AFP had to respond quickly as the scale of the disaster became evident.

Here is what happened in the first two weeks

Saturday, October 12

11.08pm: Local Bali time, (Sunday, October 13, 1.08am AEST)

  • Bomb explodes at Paddy’s Bar in Kuta, Bali, followed a short time later by a second blast at the nearby Sari Club. About 45 to 60 seconds later, a third bomb explodes near the US Consulate in the Denpasar suburb of Renon.
  • The incident triggers federal government response, led by the DFAT with the AFP taking a leading role from the outset. It will involve thousands of Commonwealth public servants, federal and state police, defence force personnel and volunteers.

Sunday, October 13

2.00am: (AEST)

  • Several members of the public contact AFP’s National Assessments Centre (NAC) with information about an explosion in a hotel or nightclub in Bali.
  • Each caller states contact from a friend or relative in Bali. Some callers report massive confusion and casualties. Callers referred to DFAT Consular Operations to obtain latest information and assistance.

2.15am: Australian Consulate General, BALI receives reports of bomb blast – he seeks to confirm reports.

2.39am: Federal Agent Glen MCEWEN phones AFP Headquarters from Bali.

  • He says he and Federal Agent Mick KELSEY are in Bali, that there has been an explosion and they are en route to investigate. A short time later, Federal Agent MCEWEN reports the extent of damage at the blast site.
  • He describes seeing burning buildings, burning motor vehicles with occupants still inside and a relatively large crater in the street outside the Sari Club. He reports chaos, with people running from the scene and emergency services attempting to extinguish fires.
  • He advises Australian and other foreign tourists heavily frequent Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club. Due to the damage he can see, he expects Australian casualties will be significant.

3.00 - 3.30am: All appropriate agencies are advised by the AFP after two Federal Agents at the scene officially confirm reports of explosions in Bali.

4.13am: Federal Agent Jeff CALDWELL calls to advise at least five AFP personnel are on leave in Bali.

  • Federal Agents Frank MORGAN, Tim FISHER and Nicolle HAIGH are amongst those known to be on leave from their UN Contingent, Timor Leste. FISHER is injured (serious but not life threatening). HAIGH is missing.

5.00am: Protective Security Coordination Centre (PSCC) Watch Office staff begin to gather information about incident.

  • DFAT establishes as the lead Commonwealth agency with AFP, Australian Defence Force and ASIO having principal roles.
  • DFAT Crisis Centre activated to coordinate information flows to relevant government agencies, and the whole-of-government response.

6.30am: Incident Coordination Centre (ICC) is set up and operating at AFP Headquarters.

7.00am: AFP Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, General Manager International, General Manager National Operations and others convene at AFP Headquarters to formulate an initial AFP plan.

  • Throughout the morning, AFP Headquarters is in contact with Police General Chief, Da’i BACHTIAR of the Indonesian National Police to offer assistance. He indicates AFP assistance would be welcome.

9.00am: AFP attend DFAT Crisis Centre meeting.

11.49am: Commissioner Mick KEELTY circulates All-Staff email message

  • It confirms the bombings in Bali and urges patience and calm while the fate of colleagues remains unknown. He advises that Federal Agent Graham ASHTON will lead the joint team heading to Bali as soon as Indonesia confirms the scope of assistance required.
  • Federal Agent Tim MORRIS is to head a joint AFP-ASIO investigation team located in Canberra.
  • The AFP’s PROMIS case is created.

11.50am: Visiting Indonesian official formally requests Australian assistance – specifically AFP and ASIO.

12.00pm: Meeting of the Commonwealth’s Special Incident Task Force (SITF) called for 3.30pm in Canberra.

12.30pm: National Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) commander contacts AFP offering assistance.

  • Commissioner KEELTY contacts state and territory police commissioners to ensure coordination of the national/international law enforcement response.
  • AFP announces joint investigation team from ASIO and AFP is on its way to Bali to assist Indonesian Police. Team includes forensic and investigative officers, and experts in disaster victim identification and bomb-blast investigation.

3.35pm: AFP receives first call from possible witness.

4.00pm: AFP General Manager National Operations Ben McDEVITT briefs members of the AFP contingent being deployed to Bali.

4.05pm: Situation report from Federal Agent McEWEN advises that forward command post has been established at SAMID RAYA HOTEL.

4.27pm: Commissioner KEELTY releases second All-Staff message.

  • He reports that all AFP, state and territory police in Bali have been accounted for, although there are casualties – Federal Agent Nicolle HAIGH is the most seriously injured.

6.30pm: RAAF Orion carrying AFP Initial Assessment Team and consular officials leaves for Bali.

  • AFP team includes disaster victim identification, forensic, investigation, intelligence and bomb-blast experts.

11.00pm: First questionnaires handed to passengers departing Denpasar.

Monday, October 14

Prime Minister Howard addresses House of Representatives.

  • He thanks all those agencies and people involved in the rescue and medical evacuation.
  • Announces AFP Commissioner KEELTY will go to Bali and Jakarta with ministers DOWNER (DFAT) and ELLISON (Justice) and ASIO head Dennis RICHARDSON.

2.30am: First Hercules arrives in Darwin with evacuees

  • First commercial and charter flights begin to arrive in Australia with passengers interviewed by AFP personnel at all major airports – a massive logistical exercise.
  • Over the next two weeks, AFP will take statements from all passengers on 19 flights from Bali. In all, 7340 passenger questionnaires are completed, leading to 450 relevant leads.

7.00am: AFP Forensic Major Incident Room (MIR) is operational in Canberra.

11.10am: Guidelines issued for recording Bali-related entries on AFP database PROMIS

12.50pm (Darwin time): injured Federal Agent Nicolle HAIGH arrives by air and transported to Darwin Hospital.

1.05pm: Fourth Hercules arrives in Darwin with 12 evacuees

1.54pm: Operations Management Centre advises the name of operation – ALLIANCE.

6.02pm: Commissioner KEELTY releases third All-Staff update.

  • Advises at 12.30am 15 October - two Australian Bomb Data Centre (ABDC) members, four investigators and four forensic members, together with five disaster victim identification experts from state and territory police will leave for Bali to supplement existing AFP/ASIO team already on the ground.
  • He announces his imminent departure for Bali with Ministers DOWNER and ELLISON.

Within 36 hours: all Australian injured have returned to Australia.

  • AFP is playing a frontline role in dealing with victims’ families with many traumatised by their loss, and frustrated at perceived delays in releasing bodies.

Within 48 hours: five refrigeration units have been despatched to Bali.

  • Priority task is DFAT and AFP’s active pursuit of negotiations with Indonesian authorities to improve conditions of local morgues and stabilise the remains of Australian victims.

Tuesday, October 15

Four RAAF Hercules aircraft begin support for the Australian medical distribution plan of patients from Darwin throughout Australia.

1.03pm: AFP Commissioner’s All-Staff advises:

  • Federal Agent HAIGH has been moved to Brisbane and Federal Agent FISHER is back in Canberra receiving treatment on his injured hand.
  • Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules departs Australia with 22 AFP officers – due in Bali at 8am.

Wednesday, October 16

  • AFP has 21 members in Bali assisting the investigation with a further 19 departing – three others to arrive tomorrow.
  • AFP calls for videos and photos from witnesses.

Thursday, October 17

  • AFP has 25 Disaster Victim Identification response members in Bali and will send another 18 specialists today.

Friday, October 18

  • Commissioner KEELTY advises staff he has signed an MOU with Indonesian National Police to establish Joint Australia-Indonesia Police Investigative Team.
  • Four more AFP forensic staff arrive in Bali.

Sunday, October 20

  • National Day of Mourning.
  • PROMIS entries reach 20,000.
  • AFP reminds families of missing Australians to provide DNA samples (hair brushes, unwashed clothes, used razors, lipstick) to assist in victim identification process.

Monday, October 21

  • Commissioner KEELTY says evidence suggests two devices used in Kuta. Says 400 AFP personnel working in Australia with colleagues from other Australian police jurisdictions. Another 109 Australian officers in Bali – more than 50 involved directly in victim identification.

Tuesday, October 22

  • Commissioner KEELTY visits Forensics Major Incident Room in Canberra where experts are working around the clock to help identify victims.

Wednesday, October 23

  • Emergency amendment to the Crimes Act passes the Senate, allowing CrimTrac DNA database system to be used for disaster victim identification.
  • Commissioner KEELTY issues another All-Staff update: announces major staff shuffle to cover Operation ALLIANCE. Says he is proud of the effort of staff in “a very difficult and complex environment” and encourages continued commitment.

Thursday, October 24

  • 10.00am: National Memorial Service for Bali victims held at Parliament House.

Sunday, October 27

  • PROMIS entries reach 30,000.
  • AFP announces forensic examination of crime scene is largely complete.

**Based on a list compiled by Verona Burgess, Public Service Reporter for the Canberra Times 2002 – amended to reflect AFP focus. Printed with the permission of the Canberra Times.

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