It’s the time of the year when the feeling of dread returns and Maria Kotronakis becomes anxious and moody.
It’s not that she doesn’t think every day about the four cherished family members she lost in the 2002 Bali bombings, after her own life was spared by a twist of fate.
But every year as the tragic anniversary approaches, the anger becomes more pronounced and she finds herself apologising to people for her short temper.
‘It’s just my coping mechanism,’ she says.
However, she makes no apologies for wanting all of the terrorists responsible dead.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Maria’s identical twin Dimitra (Dimmy), then 27, older sister Elizabeth, 33, and her cousins Louiza Zervos, 33, and Christine Betmalik, 29, in the single biggest family tragedy of the horrific bombings.
They had joined Maria on her honeymoon to Bali and were on a night out in the Sari Club at Kuta Beach on October 12, 2002, when Islamic terrorists detonated two bombs which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Now aged 47, Maria empathises with everyone who had parents, children, siblings, and friends obliterated in Australia’s largest peacetime tragedy.
Maria Kotronakis (centre) with her identical twin Dimmy (left) father, Peter, mother Vicky, and older sister Lizzy (right) on her wedding day a week before the Bali bombings
Poignant photo of the Kotronakis sisters, identical twins Dimmy (left) and Maria and older sister Lizzy – on the last Christmas Eve they ever had together, in 2001 – who did everything together until the Bali mass murder bombings tore them apart
The devastation on Jalan Legian, the main street at Kuta Beach, after the mass murders
But she cannot ‘move on’, as some people suggest.
She is triggered by things like the number 12 and the word Bali and troubled by irrational guilt, but is unmoved by any suggestion that she forgive.
‘If you don’t like my opinion, that’s fine,’ Maria told Daily Mail Australia this week through tears for the women she calls ‘my sisters, my angels, my everything’.
‘If people hurt me, I wish them death. (The bombers) should all have been executed,’ she said.
‘We didn’t get to say goodbye to our loved ones before they died. The three who were executed said, given the chance, they’d do it again.’
Maria Kotronakis is all too familiar with the names of the men involved in the bombing plot, in particular the three Javanese brothers Ali Imron, Ali Ghufron (aka Muklas), and the ghastly ‘smiling bomber’ Amrozi.
Ghufron and Amrozi were executed by firing squad along with Imam Samudra in November 2008.
‘The third brother Ali Imron got life because he showed remorse and asked for forgiveness,’ Maria said.
‘He should have been executed too – but if you’re going to keep him in jail, put him down a hole with no contact with the outside and just throw food and drink into the hole.
Maria (in the hat) with bridesmaid Christine Betmalik, sister Lizzy, and cousin Louiza Zervos enjoyed a happy week in Bali before the bombings tore their lives apart
The mass destruction on Kuta’s main street after suicide bombers in Paddy’s Bar and a van outside the Sari Club detonated massive blasts intended to cause maximum carnage
Maria (above in Bali laying flowers for her beloved sisters and cousins), knows the exact place the girls were when the bombs went off just after 11pm on October 12, 2002
‘They were cowards who ran away after killing everyone and then the motherf***ers got hunted down and caught.
‘They don’t deserve our precious oxygen.’
Twenty years ago, as the murderous plot was being hatched, Maria, like many other Australians, was carefree and happy on holiday with her family in Bali.
Sisters Maria, Dimmy and Elizabeth were football mad, loved skiing and swimming and did everything together.
They were taught by their truck driver father to stand up for themselves – Peter Kotronakis always telling them: ‘Never let anyone push you around’.
‘We fought like sisters, shared like sisters, cried like sisters, laughed like sisters and always argued with Mum about doing the housework,’ Maria said.
Executed by firing squad, brothers Ali Ghufron (left), Amrozi ‘the smiling bomber’ (right), and Imam Samudra (centre) never showed any remorse and said they would do it again
Mother of the three brothers Tarijem (above) made the ghastly remark at the time of the executions that her sons were not guilty because they killed ‘sinful’ men and women
A still frame from video footage shows people silhouetted against the fires in the wreckage of buildings and cars following the bomb blasts at Kuta Beach
It was only natural that when Maria got married, her sisters and their two cousins would join the honeymoon.
Maria flew to Bali on Monday, October 7, 2002.
Elizabeth, Dimmy, and Christine – Maria’s three bridesmaids – and Louiza followed the next day.
They were a lively group among many sets of families and friends enjoying the week in Bali leading up to Saturday, October 12.
After racing each other in the pool, and shopping and enjoying dinner and drinks, Maria was struck down by a migraine on the Saturday evening and decided to stay at the hotel.
Vicky and Peter Kotronakis emigrated from Greece and married in Sydney and had three daughters, Elizabeth and twins Maria and Dimmy (left with their parents, above right)
Maria (pictured with mum Vicky) received a phone call from her worried mother on the Sunday and by Monday, after searching frantically for her sisters, ‘knew they were dead’
At 9pm, Elizabeth, Dimmy, Christine and Louiza headed for Jalan Legian, the main street at Kuta Beach where Australians and other tourists crammed into the Sari Club and Paddy’s Irish Bar.
The girls, who loved to dance, opted for the Sari Club where between 300 and 350 people, mostly Australians, packed the dance floor.
None of the revellers were aware that two weeks earlier an Indonesian al-Qaeda group called Jemaah Islamiah had cased the venues, making plans for bombs intended to cause maximum carnage.
Preparatory meetings had been held in western Java during August and September for a plot ten months in the planning and involving at least 25 people, including bomb makers, a field co-ordinator, suicide bombers and chemical buyers.
At 11.06pm a young man named Iqbal walked into Paddy’s Irish Bar and at 11.07 detonated the 5kg of TNT in his backpack.
This caused many inside, including the injured, to surge into the street where, 30 seconds later, a white Mitsubishi L300 van packed with 700kg of explosives parked outside the Sari Club exploded.
The blast was so powerful it registered on Indonesian seismographs as a fireball engulfed the club’s thatched roof.
Bodies line the street outside the Sari Club the day after the bombs detonated on Bali by Javanese Islamic terrorists who had planned the mass murders in the year leading up to October 2002
The scale of the destruction wrought by the terrorist who then fled Bali but were hunted down by police and tried for murder is plain to see in the aftermath along Jalan Legian near Kuta Beach
Early the next morning, Vicky Kotronakis called Maria from Sydney to say she couldn’t track down the other girls.
Mrs Kotronakis had learned about the bombs overnight, but was trying to be strong for her newlywed daughter.
At Denpasar’s Sanglah Hospital, where the injured and the dead were taken, desperate relatives set up boards with lists of missing people and their physical descriptions.
Many survivors had dreadful injuries, mostly terrible burns from which some would later die. Outside, the already dead laid under ice, blankets and bags in Sanglah’s makeshift morgue.
Maria couldn’t find her four loved ones among any of them.
‘By Monday night, I knew they were dead,’ Maria said.
Flying home without them was hard and waiting with her parents for their remains to be identified and returned back to Australia was harder.
‘But at least we got them home, or bits of them,’ Maria said.
‘We were lucky we got all four girls back. Some families didn’t get any remains at all.’
Bali police chief General I Made Pastika and his officers would identify 25 Indonesians believed responsible for the attacks, and in 2003 trials in the island’s capital, Denpasar would begin.
Amrozi, the infamous ‘smiling bomber’ is led in 2003 into court where he was found guilty and sentenced to death which was carried out in an execution by firing squad five years later
Field commander of the mass murder bombings, Imam Samudra (left) is led into the court where he will be sentenced to death and (right) his body is paraded through the streets by fanatics after his 2008 execution
It was at these court hearings that the three brothers would become infamous to Australians for their laughing disdain of the horror and destruction they caused.
At his trial, the bombings field commander Imam Samudra walked from the court after he was sentenced to death, yelling ‘Allah Akbar’ (god is great) and ‘Muslim people, destroy Christians, destroy America, destroy Jews’.
For Maria, the lack of remorse meant the Bali bombers ‘lost their rights to anything that’s human’.
‘We lost four beautiful girls who did nothing wrong. Normal people that would get up and go to work every day, live life as much as they could and enjoy themselves,’ she said.
‘There was nothing the girls ever did wrong to have been executed they way they were.
‘I know that people talk about the Abdallah family forgiving the driver (Samuel Davidson, who killed four children in the 2020 Oatlands crash) and one of the families forgiving the driver in the Buxton crash.
‘They were accidents. This was deliberate.’
Handmade coffins outside Sanglah hospital morgue with the remains of the victims. Maria Kotronakis said she and her family were grateful to receive her sisters back so they could lay them to rest
Maria Kotronakis (above) this week says her beloved sisters are always with her and after 20 years she cannot move on from the atrocity which tore them from life
Maria knows the exact spot where her sisters were dancing when they died, and it is her special spot to go to when she visits Bali.
She is appalled that plans for a permanent peace park could be overridden by a foreign developer’s plans for a bar and shopping centre.
‘I know where they are,’ she said.
‘I know where they were standing. I feel at peace there.
‘You’re going to put a bar where my sisters died on soil that has blood in it?’
She had planned to go to Bali for this year’s 20th anniversary, but financial issues kept her at home and she will attend the ceremony at the Coogee memorial in Sydney.
She will go back to Bali when she can afford to, and go to St James Park in London, where her loved ones names are engraved into a sandstone wall with the other victims’ on a memorial unveiled by King Charles in 2006.
Maria (right) with her late mum Vicky and her former partner Steve, who passed away earlier this year
Family pay their respects at Australia’s Bali memorial during a ceremony at Coogee Beach last year where the grieving gather annually on October 12
At the Coogee memorial, Rosey (left) and Shelly, two of the women Maria Kotronakis calls her ‘blue diamonds’, the friends who are her rocks of support
Six years ago, Maria’s beloved mother Vicky died from cancer after an illness over several years.
Vicky was somewhat comforted she would meet her daughters in the afterlife, and by the fact that Maria had met a man she considered her ‘soul mate’.
Maria’s marriage to the man she had honeymooned with in Bali had not lasted, and she forged an eight-year relationship with another Greek Australian, Steve.
The romance foundered last year, but Maria and Steve had rescued a friendship from their relationship when in April this year, he died suddenly, having suffered from epilepsy and a heart condition.
When three of the Bali bombers were executed in 2008, an insight into the mindset of the infamous brothers came from their mother Tarijem.
She smiled as she told Al Jazeera her sons were not guilty because ‘they are killing men and women who are sinful, who are engaging in free sex. They killed unbelievers’.
Maria Kotronakis has pledged to visit the London memorial (pictured) for the Bali dead opened in 2006 by the then Prince Charles and on which can be seen her sisters’ names
The three Kotronakis sisters, twins Maria and Dimmy, with their older sister by six years, Elizabeth, at home in Sydney here they grew up in a happy, closeknit family
Maria said her father Peter had wanted to be the one to put the bullets in Amrozi, Muklas and Imam Samudra.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 84, the radical Indonesian Muslim cleric who was the head of Jemaah Islamiah, was controversially released from prison in 2021
‘I just want him to drop dead as soon as possible,’ Maria said.
This month, one of the bomb makers, Umar Patek, was filmed flirting and giggling with his wife in prison as Jakarta considered granting him parole after serving just half his sentence.
Patek was an explosives expert who mixed the chemicals for both the Paddy’s Bar and Sari Club bombs, and Maria Kotronakis believes he should have been executed, or at least be condemned to living in a hole.
Maria has undergone grief counselling, a right for life granted to all Bali victims by the prime minister at the time of the bombings, John Howard.
Maria has friends, three women in particular, she considers her rocks and calls her ‘blue diamonds’, as well as the support and friendship of her employers at the family cafe where she works making sandwiches in the Sydney CBD.
The names of the 202 victims of the Bali bombings inscribed in the memorial at Kuta Beach (above) includes those of the 88 Australians who perished during or after the blast
Many of the families of the Bali victims fear that a planned peace park around the Bali bombing memorial at Kuta will instead be developed, meaning the sacred ground where their loved ones dies could end up being under a bar and shops
Umar Patek, the explosive expert who mixed the chemicals for the Bali bombs (above with his wife), and who is slated to be released from prison after serving just half of his sentence
The family employed Maria earlier this year at a time when she felt lost and unable to work in retail, as she had previously, or anywhere ‘under pressure, anything that would make me cry’.
‘I was very bad, they saved me,’ she said.
As the dreaded 12th day of October looms, Maria is filled with trepidation but unrepentant about her view of the bombers and others such as the murderers she describes as ‘evil’.
‘How do you get your life back together, people say,’ she said.
‘People have been telling me that for 20 years.
‘So, tell me what to do. I don’t know how to do it. I live from day to day… and if I hadn’t gone to Bali after getting married and my sisters hadn’t come too?’ Maria said through tears.
‘How do I learn to live without them? I don’t. They are part of me.
‘People think I’m wrong for not forgiving. I’m not a monster, but I don’t want to learn to forgive.
‘A friend said the other day, “I’m, sorry you have to live like this Maria, every day”.
‘But I’m not the only one.’