Denpasar (Bali) – Pictures of the severed heads of the three alleged suicide bombers in the Oct 1 Bali bombings have been circulated widely and even shown to several jailed Jemaah Islamiah (JI) members. Yet, the fact that nobody seems to know them appears to support the thesis that the Bali II bombers are "new players" in the terror scene.
"They are new in the sense that they were some of the latest recruits of an international terrorist network which has been active especially in Southeast Asia," a police source in Bali told Antara on Oct 8.
The information was linked to new intelligence findings that at least 10 graduates of terrorist schools in Mindanao, southern Philippines, had been sent to other parts of the region, including Indonesia.
The New York Times also quoted a senior Indonesian counter-terrorism official as saying that the Bali II bombers appeared to be "jihadists" without prior involvement in terrorist activities which would have attracted the attention of the authorities.
Apart from new players, the Oct 1 Bali bombings also point to another disturbing trend: That new splinter terror groups have sprung up in Southeast Asia and beyond and appear to be planning their own attacks without direction from established organisations like JI or Al-Qaeda.
The Indonesian crackdown following the triple suicide bombings, with 300 people arrested so far, has revealed that many members of the older JI network have broken off to lead their own terror cells. At the same time, a few newer groups have emerged.
However, the JI factor is still there – with the regional terror network serving as a link between some of these splinter groups and the newer ones, with JI leaders moving easily between Indonesia and the Philippines to offer assistance in training, fund-raising and arming the militants.
At least five JI leaders remain at large: Malaysian fugitives Azahari Husin, a bomb expert; Noordin Mohamed Top, his chief strategist; Dulmatin, an Indonesian electronics wizard; Afghan veteran Zulkarnaean who helped established the Laskar Khos suicide bombers a few years ago; and Abu Dujana, who reportedly helped to hide some Singapore JI members who were planning to attack key targets on the island.
Apart from the five, a few other leaders with less experience have also played significant roles in shaping the terror network.
"JI has been significantly degraded in terms of capability and manpower since October 2001 but the organisation still retains a limited capacity to destabilise governments and the economy," Dr Zachary Abuza, the Boston-based author of Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror, told The Straits Times.
He believes that JI is now out to regroup and it leaders may seek to provoke sectarian conflict, through which they can indoctrinate their members.
* Breakaway groups the new trend in terror (The Straits Times, Oct 10)
* Oct 1 Bali boming perpetrators were 'new players' (Antara, Oct 9)