September 25th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Latham's campaign dilemma

EDITORIAL: Jemaah Islamiah: the shocking evidence

ELECTION SPECIAL 1: The real issues facing Australia

ELECTION SPECIAL 2: Reversing the rural decline

ELECTION SPECIAL 3: Voters must challenge candidates on moral issues

The Greens' dangerous naïvete

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Jemaah Islamiah: the shocking evidence

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 25, 2004
The massive explosion in a busy road outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, which astonishingly caused the deaths of only about 10 people, highlights the vulnerability of both Australia and Indonesia to violence perpetrated by terrorists who prey on the innocent.

What made the bombing particularly atrocious was that it was inevitable that, although the target was a building where Australian Embassy staff work, the victims were overwhelmingly Indonesians. The bombing was an act of cowardice, being launched against defenceless civilians, as were the earlier bombings in Bali (2002) and Jakarta's Marriott Hotel (2003).

Responsibility for the bombings has been claimed by the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which wants to create a fundamentalist Muslim super-state in South East Asia.

Ringleaders on the loose

While JI has been damaged by the arrest of some 200 operatives and supporters after the previous bombings, two ringleaders of JI remain on the loose, and are suspected of having planned the Embassy bombing.

They are Dr Azahari Husin - a Western-educated Muslim from Malaysia, a former professor of statistics who studied in Great Britain and Australia, before becoming involved in JI - and Noordin Muhammad Top.

Evidence given at trials of members of the bomb-making group that carried out the Bali bombing indicate that Azahari, who allegedly trained in Afghanistan and the Philippines, was the bomb-maker. Noordin Muhammad Top was the controller of the bombing of the Marriott Hotel, and may have had the same role in the Embassy bombing.

Both men are well-educated, contradicting suggestions that the attacks were caused by poor people jealous of the wealth of Western countries.

National Police chief General Da'i Bachtiar said that the bombers' method of operation was the same as in the bombings in Bali and at the Marriott Hotel. Despite suggestions by Labor spokesmen in Australia that Australia's involvement in the Iraq war had prompted the Jakarta bombing, this seems improbable - if only because that war has led to the overthrow of a left-wing secular leader, Saddam Hussein, who persecuted the Muslim religion.

Equally unlikely is the suggestion that the bombing was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11 bombing in 2001 or the Australian elections.

Professor Harold Crouch, an Australian expert on Indonesian affairs, who was inside the embassy when the bomb exploded, told ABC Radio National's PM program, "I would say with absolute certainty it's got nothing to do with the Australian election; these people [the perpetrators] probably wouldn't even know there's an election in Australia."

The underlying causes have more to do with hostility to the United States, with which Australia is closely aligned; Australia's role in East Timor in 1999; and its close co-operation with the Indonesian Government in hunting down Jemaah Islamiah operatives in Indonesia and elsewhere over the past five years.

This conclusion is strengthened by reports by the Indonesian National Police chief that the JI group had intended to bomb the opening of an anti-terrorism centre in Indonesia several months ago, which had been partly funded by Australia.

The Indonesian Government's commitment to stamp out the terrorist cell was clearly evident after the bomb blast. President Megawati returned from Sabah to visit the bomb site, and Indonesia welcomed the presence of the Australian Federal Police and Australian forensic experts, as they had after the Bali bombing.

To destroy the Jemaah Islamiah network will require sustained co-operation between police and intelligence organisations in several countries, including the Philippines, where there are JI training camps.

Despite the arrests since the Bali bombing, the International Crisis Group reports that JI has some 3,000 members, tightly linked together by religious loyalty, inter-marriage, and the network of madrassas (Islamic schools) funded by Saudi Arabian oil money, and led by Abu Bakar Bashir, the extremist cleric who co-founded JI in the 1990s.

In the 1970s, Bashir was imprisoned by the Suharto Government for attempting to form an Islamic militia. On his release, he fled to Malaysia, where he teamed up with a top JI operative, Hambali, who planned the Bali bombing. Bashir returned to Indonesia after the fall of Suharto in 1998.

Video found after the American occupation of Afghanistan in 2002 revealed a Jemaah Islamiah plot to murder American soldiers in Singapore, and to target the American, British and Australian embassies.

In June 2002, a senior al-Qaeda figure, Omar al-Faruq, claimed that Bashir had authorised him to use JI operatives to bomb Western embassies in the region. Al-Faruq also confessed to plotting to kill Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Nothing less than the total destruction of JI will end further acts of barbarism.

  • Peter Westmore is president of the National Civic Council.

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