Indonesian Terror

Those familiar with the ins-and-outs of the Indonesian security are not surprised that officials are linking Tuesday’s bombing in Jakarta to the al Qaeda-affiliatedJemaah Islamiah (JI). The attack on the American-owned Marriott Hotel, which killed between 10 and 14 people, is reported as having a number of similarities to last October’s al Qaeda suicide bombing on the island of Bali. The questions now are about the best strategies for dealing with JI.

On Thursday, an Indonesian court found JI member, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, guilty of planning and assisting in the deadly Bali bombing. A number of people associated with the deadly attack have been apprehended by authorities. Still, many observers are not convinced that a strategy of lopping off JI’s head will kill the beast.

Critics claim that regional authorities have focused the crux of their anti-terrorism effort on capturing the big names of JI, while allowing the sprawling structure of the organization to grow beneath their radar. The Straits Times of Singapore points out that the Jakarta bombing illustrates the regenerative power of JI — despite hundreds of arrests within its ranks. A recent call to the Indonesian bureau chief of the paper from an anonymous JI source warned that the organization would wage a ‘ campaign of terror in Indonesia and the region’ if any ‘Muslim brothers’ were executed. Such a warning takes on new resonance now that Nurhasyim has been handed a death sentence.

B. Raman, a retired member on the Indian Cabinet argues that it is fruitless to focus on capturing the leaders of JI, while the organization grows in the general population. He believes that the regional powers should join together in an effort to end terrorism:

“While a personality-oriented campaign is important, equally, if not more important, is one focused on infrastructure. Unless the infrastructure across the region is identified and eliminated, the more heads one cuts, the more they will grow.

The time has come for countries in the region to set up a joint task force to focus on the identification and elimination of the terrorist infrastructure across the region.”

But do Indonesian authorities have the capacity to handle the terrorist threat on their own? The recent bombing was the fifth in the Indonesian capital this year. And Indonesian police officials recently disclosed that they had received advanced information warning of the attack.

Especially given that the United States is increasingly the target of attacks, the Washington Post editorializes that it is in the West’s interest to aid Indonesia — a country struggling out from under from Suharto’s 32-years of dictatorship. The Post points out that Indonesia’s struggle against terrorism needs to be viewed as part of the nation’s quest to improve itself economically and heal internal wounds:

“[Indonesia’s] challenges include deep-seated economic troubles, ethnic divisions, corruption, tensions over the place of the powerful military in society and human rights abuses by some parts of those armed forces. It’s in the West’s interest to help the transition in any way possible — to help a Muslim-majority country succeed as a tolerant democracy.”

But with our domestic struggle to balance counter-terrorism with civil liberties, we might not have a perfected technique to share with Indonesia.”


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