Terrorism in Southeast Asia: Indonesia
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The deadliest terrorist attacks since 9/11 were on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2002; 202 people, including more than 80 Australian tourists and seven Americans, died. Jemaah Islamiah, a group linked to al-Qaeda, carried out the twin nightclub bombings.
BLOCK: The group is responsible for several high-profile bombings since. Its goal is a Pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia. And Jemaah Islamiah has links to other militant groups in the region. This week NPR's Michael Sullivan examines those links and the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia. He begins in Indonesia.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:
For US citizens, the islands and beaches of Southeast Asia aren't as inviting as they used to be. The State Department warns Americans to avoid non-essential travel to Indonesia and the Philippines, to parts of Malaysia and southern Thailand because of the threat posed by Jemaah Islamiah and other militant groups.
(Soundbite of siren)
Unidentified Man #1: Secure all classified. Close doors and evacuate the building using the nearest exit.
SULLIVAN: At the US Embassy in the Indonesia capital, Jakarta, drills like this one help ensure that employees and visitors are as ready as they can be in the event of an attack.
Unidentified Man #1: The evacuation alarm will be followed by specific instructions on the security threat...
SULLIVAN: Credible threats have temporarily shut down the embassy several times since 9/11. Two weeks ago, Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, warned that a major terrorist attack is likely in the next few weeks.
President SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO (Indonesia): (Foreign language spoken)
SULLIVAN: `The terrorists,' Yudhoyono said, `are actively recruiting, networking and planning, readying themselves,' he said, `for another strike.' The Indonesian police have jailed hundreds of alleged JI members in the past few years, but there are more than enough still out there to carry out a major attack against a Western target.
Mr. ZACHARY ABUZA (Author, "Tentacles of Terror"): I think it's pretty clear that they're gearing up for this.
SULLIVAN: Zachary Abuza is author of "Tentacles of Terror: Al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian Network."
Mr. ABUZA: One of the people who was arrested after the Australian Embassy bombing last year said that the leaders wanted to up the tempo to a bombing every six months. And it's clear they do not have the capabilities to do that while on the run, to procure the explosives, recruit people who are willing to martyr themselves, etc. But they clearly have the capabilities to engage in a bombing once a year.
SULLIVAN: The terrorists' capabilities have been severely curtailed by the Indonesian government's crackdown, but many Western governments, including the US, say Indonesia could be doing more.
(Soundbite of court proceedings)
Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)
(Soundbite of uproar)
SULLIVAN: In march, an Indonesian court sentenced the alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah to just two and a half years in jail for his involvement in the Bali bombings. Abu Bakr Bashir's supporters reacted angrily, insisting the Muslim cleric was innocent and that the court was simply the puppet of the West.
(Soundbite of uproar)
SULLIVAN: But the US and Australian governments were also unhappy with the verdict. They wanted a much longer sentence for the man they view as a terrorist. Both countries have also urged Indonesia to outlaw JI and declare it a terrorist organization, something the Indonesian government has been reluctant to do. Again, Zachary Abuza.
Mr. ABUZA: A lot of Indonesians still do not believe that JI as an organization exists, and no one really wants to expend the political capital in outlawing JI simply because they're afraid it will offend the Muslim constituency and be perceived as caving in to American and Australian demands.
SULLIVAN: Even so, Indonesian courts did sentence two JI members to death last week for their roles in the bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta last September. And Indonesian officials say the US could be doing more to help them. The case against Bashir could have been stronger, many analysts agree, had the prosecution been allowed to question the Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali, captured by the CIA outside Bangkok two years ago. Hambali was JI's operations chief and al-Qaeda's point man in the region. He was also a longtime associate of Abu Bakr Bashir. But the US refused to allow the Indonesians access to Hambali, making it difficult for the prosecution to make its case against him both in court and in the court of public opinion.
Ms. DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR (Political Analyst): I don't think that the public in general have any particular sympathy for JI.
SULLIVAN: What the public does have, says political analyst Dewi Fortuna Anwar, is a deep suspicion of the West and residual distrust of its own government after 30 years of authoritarian rule under the ex-dictator Suharto.
Ms. ANWAR: If, for example, such major terrorists had been allowed to come to Indonesia and testify in Indonesian court and could give clear evidence of their existence of JI, I think it would have assisted the Indonesia authority to deal with these matters. And in fact, the Muslim majority in this country would want to disavow any link or any perceived support for a convicted terrorist organization.
SULLIVAN: President Yudhoyono's spokesman, Andi Mallarangeng, says it's not that important whether JI is outlawed or not. What matters, he says, is decisive action against those who pose a threat.
Mr. ANDI MALLARANGENG (Yudhoyono Spokesperson): If it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck. So as long as they do terrorist activities, we will punish them.
SULLIVAN: And even the critics admit the Indonesian police have done very well. Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, says the police have done so much damage to Jemaah Islamiah that many in the JI leadership are now rethinking the bombing strategy, a strategy pushed early on by members with close ties to al-Qaeda.
Ms. SIDNEY JONES (International Crisis Group): I think JI has changed. I think there seem to be a number of people at fairly senior levels of the organization who believe that the bombing operations that have taken place have simply decimated the membership and thrown the organization into serious disarray, diverting the organization from its longer-term goal of trying to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia.
SULLIVAN: Three years after the Bali bombings, Jones says it is no longer accurate to view Jemaah Islamiah as al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian affiliate. And the threat posed by JI, she says, has diminished. But the pro-bombing faction, however marginalized, remains dangerous, she warns, not just in Indonesia but in the region as a whole.
Ms. JONES: I don't think we run the risk of a new militant wing of Jemaah Islamiah being created. I think these people are more likely to go off and form networks with other existing groups. There does seem to be some rethinking alliances, particularly between the Abu Sayyaf group and the most dangerous members of Jemaah Islamiah, most of whom are there as fugitives. We're not talking about large numbers, a couple of dozen; but nevertheless, they could cause problems.
SULLIVAN: More on that tomorrow from the southern Philippines island of Mindanao and from the capital, Manila. Michael Sullivan, NPR News.
NORRIS: To learn more about Jemaah al-Islamiah, go to our Web site, npr.org.
BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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