EDITORIAL: JI's blood-stained prints on the Bali bombings
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, October 22, 2005
Three years after the 2002 bombings, terror returns to Bali.
Gareth Evans, a former Australian Foreign Minister, really put his foot in it when he declared that Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the Indonesian affiliate of Al Qaeda, was "effectively smashed".
His comments came only days before terrorists - believed linked with JI - staged audacious and co-ordinated suicide bombings in the tourist zone on the island of Bali.
JI (which literally means "Islamic Community") has as its goal to create an Islamic state of over 400 million people under Sharia law, comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, southern Thailand and the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
Like the Bali bombing of October 2002, the latest bombings were clearly intended to assassinate as many Westerners and Balinese in a province of Indonesia where Muslims are a tiny minority.
(Although Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world, Muslims constitute only about 5 per cent of the population of the tourist resort island of Bali, making it a tempting target for Islamic terrorists.)
The bombings were different from earlier bombings which involved truck-loads of ammonium nitrate fertiliser as explosives. In the latest attacks, suicide bombers carried TNT in back-packs, as happened in the recent London bombings. But the 2002 bombing in Paddy's Bar, Bali, also involved a small bomb carried by a suicide bomber.
The bombings were also designed to discredit the pro-Western Indonesian Government and damage the Indonesian economy, by showing that the Government is incapable of stopping acts of terrorism.
Indonesian police say the blasts at the Raja restaurant in the resort town of Kuta and at two restaurants on Jimbaran Beach were the work of suicide bombers. The bombs went off almost simultaneously, an Al Qaeda signature.
JI had earlier claimed responsibility for the 2002 Bali bombing, as well as attacks on Jakarta's Marriott Hotel in 2003 and on the Australian Embassy in 2004.
Despite a wave of arrests of Muslim extremists over the past three years, it is clear that JI's network remains intact, and that JI has a large pool of sympathisers who give support and protection to its work.
Azahari Bin Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top have been named by Indonesia's counter-terrorism chief, Major-General Ansyaad Mbai, as the suspected masterminds of the latest suicide attacks.
Both are Western-educated Muslims: Dr Azahari Husin, the bomb-maker, is a former lecturer in engineering, and Noordin Muhammad Top, the attack co-ordinator and recruiter, was an accountant.
Dr Azahari studied in Great Britain and Australia, before returning to his home country of Malaysia.
After joining JI, he is believed to have given bomb-making classes to JI militants, and to have designed the huge car bomb used in bombing the Sari Club in Bali three years ago. Of those killed, most were Balinese.
Police said that the bombers' method of operation was the same as in the bombings in Bali and at the Australian Embassy and Marriott Hotel in Jakarta.
Despite the arrest of over 200 people since 2002, JI is understood to have a membership of over 3,000 in Indonesia, 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.
Bashir, who is currently serving a prison sentence in connection with the 2002 Bali bombing, denied that Indonesians had any role in the recent bombings. His denial, which is standard practice, implies that the bombings were conducted by foreigners and "infidels", i.e. non-Muslims.
Singaporean sources have reported that scores of JI members received military training in Afghanistan and that, several years ago, JI received over 1.35 billion rupiah ($200,000) over three years from al Qaeda.
In the Philippines, evidence links JI to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). According to regional sources, dozens of JI members trained in MILF camps in Mindanao in the 1990s.
Most prominent among them is the bomb expert al Ghozi, who authorities say passed on his knowledge and skill in explosives to MILF operatives. The MILF, in turn, had ties with al Qaeda through the hundreds of its members who trained in Afghanistan during the Taliban era.
Taken together, what one finds in Southeast Asia is an international terrorist network linked to al Qaeda.
In Indonesia, the police and law-enforcement officials, rather than the military, are principally involved in tracking down JI operatives and bringing them to trial.
The threat they pose to the stability of South-East Asia, not just Indonesia, is substantial.
- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council