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Bali – Five years on, terrorism remains a threat in Southeast Asia

Updated On: Oct 16, 2007

Five years after one of the most serious terrorist attack Southeast Asia- in Bali in 2002, the group responsible, Jemaah Islamiah (JI) still has some capabilities to inflict some damage.

The director of the International Crisis Group's (ICG) South-east Asia office, Ms Sidney Jones said, “Jemaah Islamiah remains intact as an organisation but it is unlikely that the group could be planning a major bomb attack.” However, she cautioned, “We also need to monitor some of the Indonesian militant leaders who are on the run - those who are active in the Philippines, for instance, could be looking to return to the country.”

Among them is Indonesia's most wanted militant Noordin Mohd Top, who is said to be leading his own unit. Zulkarnaen, who trained in Afghanistan, and had also set up a squad of suicide bombers.

American analyst Ken Conboy, who has written a book on JI said, “I think five years after the Bali bombings, the glass is certainly half full rather than empty.” He told The Straits Times, “Indonesia's soft strategy in tackling militancy has certainly paid off and, in hindsight, it wasn't a bad move. There is not much of JI left.”

As part of its soft strategy, The Indonesian government allow militants talk to the media and the public after they were arrested and reduced prison terms for some from time to time as part of its strategy. For example, recently the Indonesian anti-terrorism chief Brig. Gen. Surya Dharma threw a party for former militants. He was relaxed as he mingled with the guests on his lawn. The controversial party was also surreal. Muslim hard-liners swapped tales of al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan and the Philippines and had kebabs.

Brig. Gen. Surya Dharma said in a rare interview with The Associated Press, “We approach the terrorists with a pure heart….. We are all Muslims. We make them our brothers, not our enemy.” The aim was to co-opt former militants as informers or preachers of moderation.

In another example, Ilham Djaya SH, chief warden of Kerobokan State Penitentiary in Badung district announced that some 14 inmates of Kerobokan State Penitentiary who were convicted for their involvement in the Bali bombings were among a number of Muslim prisoners considered eligible to receive sentence remissions on the occasion of Idul Fitri. Last August, 10 of the 14 Bali bombers also received sentence reductions on the occasion of Indonesia's Independence Day.

The wider Indonesian society has also been reluctant to accept too heavy a sentence. An alliance of non-government organizations has asked Attorney General Hendarman Supandji to block the executions of the convicted 2002 Bali bombers—Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Ali Ghufron—for humanitarian reasons.

However, Conboy’s positive assessment of Indonesia’s soft strategy is not shared by everyone. For instance, National Resillience Institute (Lemhanas) Governor Muladi said that Indonesia has become a soft target of terrorism because of its relatively weak defence and inadequate legal apparatuses. He added, “Indonesia's geographical condition as a country made up of thousands of islands makes it a soft target of terrorism. This is evident from the fact that several parts of the country have become the target of bomb attacks.”

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has also raised his objection to the controversial party.  At the fifth anniversary of the attack, he urged the Australian community to reflect on the bombing saying, “The immediate shock may have passed, but the pain and sense of loss remain.”

The Jakarta Post (11 October) similarly urged the Indonesians to reflect, “It is also the right time to ask ourselves: What have we contributed to preventing people who think God sent them to execute others? Preventing terrorism is not the sole responsibility of the government, but of every element in society and the international community.”

Like the Indonesian government, the Philippines government is struggling to tackle terrorism. The Philippinesmilitary estimates that Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for bombings, high-profile ransom kidnappings and beheadings, has 300-400 guerrillas. This is a contrast from its earlier membership of 1,000 during its heyday in early 2000.

Nonetheless, there are indications that other terrorist groups are postponing their activities till after the Muslim fasting month. The National Police Chief Avelino Razon warned, “The ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) and their allied foreign jihadists, plus some rogue MILF members have taken advantage of the Ramadan to recuperate, replenish their logistic resources, recruit new members and plot their next move.” Razon has also ordered “maximum security coverage” at possible terror targets, including critical infrastructures, malls, transport hubs, and religious shrines.

Further assurance was provided by the Philippines Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr who said that the military is “not letting [its] guard down so that [the Abu Sayyaf] cannot bring the terror attacks to our urban centres.” However, the fact that these terrorist groups have not been, and probably will never be, eliminated provides little comfort.  They have also continued to show ingenuity in trying to get around the tightening noose on its funding by obtaining fresh funding through the popular video-sharing website Youtube. (16 October 2007)

Sources:

Philippines militants raised funds via Youtube video (Straits Times, 16 October 2007)

JI’s Ability To Launch Attacks Curbed (Straits Times, 13 October 2007)

Bali Bomber Dulmatin Still At Large (Straits Times, 13 October 2007)

High Alert On Abu Terror Plot (ManilaStandard, 13 October 2007)

Pain And Sense Of Loss In Bali Bombings Remain, Howard Says (Antara, 12 October 2007)

Bali Bombers Also Reommended For Sentence Reductions (Antara, 12 October 2007)

AGO Told To Not Execute Bali Bombers (Jakarta Post, 11 October 2007)

Remembering Bali Bomb Victims (Jakarta Post, 11 October 2007)

Al-Qaida-Linked Militants Plan Bombings After Ramadan, Philippine Police Warn (Associated Press, 11 October 2007)

Indonesia Says 'Soft Approach’ Yields Dividends In Southeast Asia’s War On Terror (Associated Press, 10 October 2007)

RI Soft Target Of Terrorism: Lemhanas Governor (Antara, 4 October 2007)