GLOBAL SECURITY I: by John MillerNews Weekly
Ten years after the Bali bombing
, October 13, 2012
On October 12, Australians will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the bombing in Bali, which saw the deaths of 202 people, including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians and a number of other European and Asian tourists. In addition, 240 people were injured.
It does not sound a great deal in strictly numerical terms, but this has been the closest Australia has come to a terrorist attack.
The attack was carried out by members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the militant Islamic group. It was carried out purportedly as retaliation for Australia’s role in the liberation of East Timor from Indonesian rule and, more broadly, as a response to the US-led global war on terror.
Approximately a week after the Bali bombing, the Arab satellite news channel Al Jazeera broadcast an audio message purportedly from Osama bin Laden, which stated in part: “You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb.… Expect more that will further distress you.”
We should not forget that two popular tourist hotels were bombed while a smaller device caused minor damage to the United States consulate in Bali’s capital, Denpasar.
Although the explosives used were relatively common and not military grade, experts have commented that the effect was thermobaric (a word used to describe a high-temperature fuel-air bomb producing a blast-wave of longer duration than by more condensed devices), although the terrorists may not have known that.
Two days later, on October 14, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Bali attacks as a threat to international peace and security.
A number of those suspected of being behind the bombing were arrested fairly promptly, but the wheels of justice turned slowly. In the face of numerous appeals, it was not until November 2008 that three members of the terrorist ring were executed by firing squad, but not before pictures appeared in the Australian media of them laughing and joking with their jailers. They were executed simultaneously but at different places on November 9, expressing no remorse and allegedly calling out, “Allahu Akhbar” (Allah is great).
It would be unwise to assume that this attack was the work of only three men. The net was spread much wider and there were more arrests, but the full number involved in the plot is still not known. In March 2010, the alleged leader of the JI cell, Dulmatin, nicknamed “The Genius”, was shot to death in a gunfight with Indonesian police in Jakarta.
As usual, the spiritual head of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir — with a long history of being arrested, jailed and released on numerous charges — managed for a while to avoid being implicated in the case, but was later detained in December 2010 by the Indonesian authorities as being a key figure in the establishment of a terrorist training camp in Aceh, sponsored with the assistance of Al Qaeda.
After a very public trial, Bashir was sentenced to jail for 15 years at a provincial court, in connection with the Aceh incident, but was acquitted of complicity in the Bali bombings. An appeal to the Jakarta High Court reduced his sentence to nine years, but the Supreme Court rejected the sentence change and annulled the decision of the Jakarta’ High Court and reinstated the original 15-year sentence.
Unconfirmed reports, attributed to Indonesian authorities, stated that 24 other suspects eluded efforts to detain them although a major figure in JI, Riduan Isamuddin, more generally known as Hambali, the suspected operational chief, was arrested in Thailand and is now in US custody.
I have long been deeply concerned about the steady growth in the number of Islamic militants in our midst. To date there have been a number of planned attacks by Islamic fundamentalists in Australia, all of which have been thwarted by the authorities, including one planned as recently as September. Some militants have been going abroad for training or to fight in the seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East.
Globally, the balance or correlation of forces at the moment favours radical Islam, especially as the US and Allied commitment to fighting in Afghanistan is waning in face of the recognition that militarily the situation is untenable and the war unwinnable.
The ugly images of casualties on the battlefield, including the deaths of Allied troops at the hands of Afghans they are training (the so-called green-on-blue attacks) and the unmentioned and unprecedented number of returned veterans committing suicide or suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are demoralising the Allied powers and undermining support at home.
The Gillard government, to its credit, is intent on staying the course, but our shaky defence structure and economic complications do not bode well for the future. National security challenges are barely being met by the combined forces of our intelligence services and police forces.
My greatest fear is that we have grown forgetful of the 2002 Bali bombing and have failed to learn from it.
John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.