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New terrorist threats: No time for complacency

Updated On: Sep 15, 2006

As Singapore kicks into clockwork operative mode to ensure security of the IMF/World Bank annual meeting, fresh threats of terrorism cast a cautious loom in the region.

On September 8, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, along with Britain, issued an advisory warning regarding the risk of terrorist attacks inSingapore, especially during the period of the IMF/World Bank annual meeting. Three days after that, Australian authorities issued another travel warning toIndonesia.

Right around the same time – the anniversary of the September 11 attacks – former Jemaah Islamiah (JI) leader, Nasir Abas, disclosed that fugitive bomber Noordin Mohamed Top has instructed followers to carry out ‘at least one terrorist attack a year’.

JI plays a major role in threatening the region’s security. The October 2002 Bali bombing took 202 lives (including 88 Australians). Subsequent years saw the Marriott Hotel blast and Australian Embassy attack in Jakarta. The most recent blow came in October last year in Bali a second time, sending the message that Noordin means business.

While JI has suffered some setback with at least 200 of its suspected members arrested or detained since security became tightened after the first Bali bombing, experts say that JI has adapted to become more diffuse whilst developing into more precise ideological tangents, thereby rendering it more indecipherable. 

JI’s spiritual leader, cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was released in June, and promptly set about to create his own following whose guiding ideology differs from previous other JI leaders. Wanted terrorists like Zulkarnaen (who was behind the first Bali attack) and Abu Dujanah (a senior JI member believed to be a close aide of Noordin) are still at large. The hunt is also out for JI members – two Indonesians, Dulmatin and Umar Patek – who have fled to the Philippinesand are believed to be sheltering with Abu Sayyaf.

In Indonesia, Amrozi, Ali Ghufron alias Mukhlas and Imam Samudra had been scheduled for execution for their roles in the 2002 Bali attack, but their executions were delayed pending a final appeal. The world is watching Indonesia’s political will to carry out these sentences, given a mixed record of prosecution in its courts.

Terrorism experts like Sidney Jones warns of the emergence of new terrorist groups through clandestine religious outreach with more innovative forms of attack. Security analyst Ken Conboy predicts that a second generation of the radical Islamist movement could emerge in Indonesia in about five to 10 years. Such a scenario may ring true especially in the revived fervour from the aftermath of the Israel-Hizbollah war.

Beyond the immediate security surrounding IMF/World Bank annual meeting, a meeting of maritime experts in the region on September 12 generated the view that joint patrols by IndonesiaMalaysia and Singapore to secure the Malacca Straits remain inadequate. 

The strategic waterway links Asia with the Middle East and Europe and carries some 50,000 vessels a year (or some 40 per cent of the world’s trade and 80 per cent of the energy supplies of Japan and China). The three littoral states launched coordinated maritime patrols in 2004 and air patrols in the Straits last year, after pressure from Washington to curb terrorism and piracy, but rejected US assistance.

Gurpreet Khurana, research fellow at India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, opined that the 2003 seizure of a tanker off Indonesian water by ten armed men to learn how to steer a ship had led to anxieties it could be a "precursor of a maritime 9/11.'' To bolster security in the region, Khurana proposed for the littoral states to “contemplate guidelines - Standard Operating Procedures and Rules of Engagement - for joint patrols in the straits”.  

Efforts by MalaysiaIndonesia and Singapore have paid off when London's insurance market, Lloyd's Market Association (LMA) dropped the war-risk rating last month which it had imposed in 2005, as part of a list of 21 other areas deemed high risk and vulnerable to war, strikes and terrorism. Complacency at this time should not be the order of the day especially during these times of imminent, oft-amorphous threat.

Sources:

Southeast Asia in the shadow of terror (Asia Times Online, 12 September 2006)

Batam steps up security for NGO forum (The Straits Times, 13 September 2006)

JI order: One terror attack a year (The Straits Times, 13 September 2006)

Threat in Asia still potent 5 years after 9/11 (The Straits Times, 11 September 2006)