Former U.S. Official On Indonesia Bombings

Suicide bombers killed eight people and wounded more than 50 at two American luxury hotels Friday in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. James Clad, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, says Western counterterrorism experts had been giving the Indonesians high marks up to now.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today's terror bombings in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, bear some familiar trademarks. Two targets - in this case, hotels - were hit almost simultaneously. The blasts were a couple of minutes apart. Suicide bombers evidently entered the hotels posing as guests, and according to Indonesian authorities, assembled the explosives in a hotel room. The attacks killed eight people and wounded more than 50, and raised questions about the strength of local jihadist groups in Indonesia.

James Clad is a professor at the National Defense University and a former Pentagon official with the responsibilities for Southeast Asia. Welcome...

Professor JAMES CLAD (Near East and South Asian Studies, National Defense University): Thank you.

SIEGEL: ...back to the program. Indonesia had gone four years without an attack like this one. What does it say about the threat in Jakarta?

Prof. CLAD: Well, it says that occasionally, in a very, very big country like Indonesia, bad things still happen. I served in the last administration, and the word on Indonesia then was that they had been doing a stellar job in finding that right balance between repression, making sure they caught the active hard-line terrorists, and also not exciting more people, in a way, to join the terrorist cause.

But it appears that this might very possibly be the work of a splinter group, disenchanted with the older leadership of the main group that's called Jamia Islamia.

SIEGEL: Jamia Islamia was the group - was that the group responsible for the Bali...

Prof. CLAD: That's correct.

SIEGEL: ...attack.

Prof. CLAD: And also, for an earlier attack on the Marriott. The Pearl Marriott has been hit now twice.

SIEGEL: Why a splinter group? Why might you suspect a splinter group there?

Prof. CLAD: Well, these groups, remember, tend to be the type of thing that don't go ahead and hold open public meetings in the town hall. They tend to be very secretive and work in a cell-type arrangement. When the older leadership are tracked down, it falls to younger people who are motivated to form another cell network. And so, I think that that probably accounts for the appearance of this group. And certainly, they had never signed on to the idea, unlike their elders, that violence was no longer an option.

SIEGEL: Is radical jihadism generally a cause that enjoys much support in Indonesia?

Prof. CLAD: No. This is the key thing. Indonesia has faced its own internal struggles, when Islamic ideology and precepts of justice would form the rhetorical basis of local rebellions. And Indonesia takes great pride in not being an Islamic state, or even having a government that regards itself as favoring Islam, but instead is a secular republic, even though it actually happens to be the most numerous Muslim country.

SIEGEL: You brought to our attention an Australian news report, which will win the prescience award. Yesterday, its lead was, Indonesian terror group, Jamia Islamia, dormant following an effective police crackdown resulting in the arrest and execution of some members, could be set to strike again.

Prof. CLAD: Yes, it's remarkably prescient. I think it's also useful to point out that things like this are being issued recurrently because there is the feeling that while we had regarded the Indonesian success with considerable contentment, there were people out there still thinking of doing other things.

It's useful also to remember that in the broader Southeast Asia context, you've got a Southern rebellion again in Thailand, and then the truce had been observed in Southern Philippines and Mindanao has also fallen down. So, there's a lot of tension with hard-line Islamists right around the region.

SIEGEL: And in Indonesia, were there any recent events that might account for an attack now? Or is the date 7/17 of any significance to Indonesians? What...

Prof. CLAD: Seventeen August is the date of Indonesia's independence. But I think it's more likely that this is a delayed signal that these people are still in business. I think that there's reasonably good chance that there's an al-Qaida link with these younger people. And I also think that it's probably a response to the execution back in November of the three people who were convicted for the bombings in Bali, which we in America sometimes forget is Australia's 9/11. Over 200 people - many of them - most of them Australians, died in that attack.

SIEGEL: James Clad, thanks a lot.

Prof. CLAD: That's all. Thank you. Glad to see you again.

SIEGEL: James Clad of the National Defense University, talking with us about today's bombings in Indonesia.

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