Bali bomber says had 1,001 chances to escape-report

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JAKARTA, Nov 12 (Reuters) A reformed Indonesian Islamic militant sentenced to life for the 2002 Bali bombings has said he passed up numerous chances to escape because he was committed to helping police, a leading news magazine said.

Ali Imron, who was charged with coordinating the bombing operation and helping make the bombs used in the nightclub attacks that killed more than 200 people, escaped the death sentence because he was remorseful.

As a repentant militant, he has been given lenient treatment by police for helping them provide information on fugitives linked to a series of bomb attacks that have rocked the country in recent years.

Tempo news weekly magazine said Imron had an expensive mobile phone and his cell block was equipped with a treadmill and a ping pong table so that he and fellow inmates can exercise.

''If I wanted to, I had 1,001 chances (to escape). But for what? I'm sticking to the commitment I have made with the police,'' Imron told Tempo in an interview.

Three people, including Imron's two brothers, were sentenced to death for the Bali bombings and are expected to face a firing squad after their final appeals were rejected two months ago.

Imron said he was helping police because he believed it was for the public interest and if he betrayed them, he would not only have to answer to the officers, but also to God.

''Even in war, if I was free on condition I should no longer fight them, I have to abide by that agreement,'' said Imron, adding that he sometimes travelled with police by taxi.

There was an uproar in Australia, which lost 88 citizens in the Bali bombings, after he was seen chatting with officers at a Starbucks coffee shop in Jakarta in 2004.

The bombings in Bali and several other attacks have been blamed on the southeast Asian Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiah.

Media reports that Imron and fellow jailed militants had a Ramadan breakfast at the house of the head of Indonesia's anti-terrorist police two months ago also sparked anger in Australia.

Police have defended their ''soft'' approach, saying it is part of their strategy to win the ''war on terror''.

Imron said some arrested militants had accused him of betrayal but that he had the support of many others.

''I know the majority of them did not agree with the bombings,'' said Imron, who appeared to have gained a lot of weight in a picture carried by the magazine.

REUTERS PD BD1505

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