To be sure, the threat of global terrorism has never gone away. Counter-terror efforts have been vigilant in trying to quash its operative groups like Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Jemaah Islamiyah. However after lying low for awhile, it seems that the global terror movements have come back with renewed vengeance.
The targeting of US Vice President Dick Cheney by an alleged Taliban suicide bomber outside the main gates of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Tuesday made headline news and confirmed the fears of the Bush administration about the resurgent Al-Qaeda and Taliban. However, US officials are making little of this attack, saying that it was sheer coincidence and only a scare tactic –there was no way that Cheney was ever in real danger. Additionally, the IHT quoted Tony Snow, the White House's press secretary, as saying “it was an isolated attack and not indicative of Taliban strength”.
Nonetheless, the US is stepping up its anti-terror efforts especially with the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, announcing before Congress also on the same day of the bombing that “senior leaders of Al Qaeda were steadily rebuilding the network’s bases inside Pakistan and although these camps were not as fully developed as the former bases in Afghanistan, future attacks against the United States could be planned from [its] remote western mountains”, the NYT reported. McConnell added that the situation was “something we’re very worried about and very concerned about”, while Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, described the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as a “haven for Al Qaeda’s leadership”.
Pakistan immediately refuted these allegations. Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told the AP that “there were no al-Qaeda training camps in his country and U.S. officials had not provided any intelligence suggesting there were”. Yet earlier on Monday, Cheney was accompanied by Deputy CIA Director Stephen Kappes in his visit to Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf “to seek his aid in foiling an anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban and al-Qaeda against coalition forces in Afghanistan”. The latter’s presence was suggestive that the “U.S. officials were prepared to buttress their allegations about al-Qaeda operations with intelligence data”, the AP reported.
Also on Tuesday, Reuters noted terror expert Zachary Abuza as saying at a Sydney security conference that Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian terror group linked to the Al-Qaeda, was “gaining support through charity work and involvement in sectarian violence”. He added that “while some JI leaders had been jailed for bombings in Indonesia, the group was multi-structured and was seeking to rebuild by broadening its support base through ‘Hamas-style’ social welfare work and sectarian violence”. The JI was definitely “down but not out”.
This news has set Asian states on an edge. Indonesia is particularly affected as the JI base is believed to be in Poso, Central Sulawesi. According to the New Straits Times, Ansyaad Mbai, head of the counter-terrorism desk at the Indonesian Co-ordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, said “Jemaah Islamiyah is in Poso, its base is there… All the violence in Poso is the work of terrorists. For a long time, many parties tended to deny the reality that what was happening in Poso was the work of terrorists.”
The Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) Commisssion has now urged the government to quickly develop the anti-terrorism desk at the above ministry “into a full-fledged anti-terrorism agency in view of the complexity of its tasks”. Antara also noted the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs AS Widodo as saying “his office would follow it up as the problem of terrorism…needed to be tackled seriously”. He added that “the government’s policies in fighting terrorism was improving inter-departmental and even international coordination and synergy in developing its terrorism-fighting capability.Incidentally, Thailand’s escalating Muslim separatist conflict is termed by Abuza as “one of the greatest risks to regional security as it [becomes] more sophisticated”. However, there is as yet no evidence of JI involvement. It seems that the Thai South can no longer be considered a strictly “domestic problem” in light of such a threat. Abuza said to Reuters, “We cannot have a conflict in the region that has greater ramifications for regional security. There is much more organisation to this that the Thais give it credit for. They are starting to be much more systematic in their attacks on economic targets. [Moving] from one-kg pipe bombs to 15-kg home-made devices and were increasing attacks on car dealers and banks… is more significant than people realise. There will be a blow back throughout the region.” This assessment seemed to be shared by several Malaysian leaders who have warned that Thai south could become potential breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.
This is sobering news for Southeast Asia which has watched Thailand founder in its post-coup public administration and conflict management in the South. In view of this threat, Malaysia may step up effort to convince Thailand of the need for more substantive bilateral action in quelling the unrest. (1 March 2007)
Opinion: A Jemaah Islamiyah surge bodes ill for Poso (New Straits Times, 1 March 2007)
M’sia army chief warns of Thai South as terrorist hotbed (Straits Times Interactive, 1 March 2007)
U.S. spy chief gives bleak assessment on terrorism (Xinhua, 28 February 2007)
Afghan Bombing Sends a Danger Signal to U.S. (NYT, 28 February 2007)
Qaeda Rebuilding in Pakistan, Intelligence Chief Tells Panel (NYT, 28 February 2007)
U.S. doubtful about Taliban bombing-Cheney claim (CTV.ca, 27 February 2007)
Government needs legal umbrella for "deradicalization" program (Antara, 27 February 2007)
House urges govt. to form anti-terrorism agency soon (Antara, 27 February 2007)
JI transforming itself, expert warns (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February 2007)
Indonesia's JI rebuilds with charity and violence (Reuters, 27 February 2007)