On Point: Jemaah Islamiya (AKA Al Qaeda) Alive and Kicking in Southeast Asia

by Austin Bay
August 6, 2003

Tuesday's deadly terror attack in Jakarta demonstrates thatlittle is quiet in the War on Terror's far-eastern front.

The attack in Indonesia's capital is a dangerous echo of October2002's blasts on the island of Bali. Those bombs killed 202 innocents.

Unless a bomb rips a city, Southeast Asia -- unfortunately --slips too easily from major media focus. By one count, the explosion outsideJakarta's J.W. Marriott hotel was the fifth this year in the Indonesiancapital, though it was the first to take lives. This terror bomb -- hiddenin a station wagon -- murdered at least 14 people and injured 150.

The blast overwhelmed the city's emergency medical responsecapabilities and spread instant economic panic, as the Indonesian stockmarket and rupiah (the local currency) both took steep dives. We live in aneconomically interdependent world. Subsequently, Wall Street took a hit.

Australia told its citizens to avoid central Jakarta. Thattranslates as "stay away from the main business district." The United Statesrenewed travel warnings and told Americans in Indonesia to follow "rigorouspersonal security practices." That's State Department lingo for don't visitunless accompanied by Green Berets. Few tourists have Special Forces teams.After the Bali bombings, Indonesian trade and tourism suffered drasticlosses. This attack will stifle the tourist industry recovery Indonesiaanticipated in 2003.

And that's the kind of pain, paralysis and paranoia theterrorists want Indonesia to suffer. Terrorists don't murder economies inthe same way they murder human beings. Economies die more slowly, strangledby fear and despair.

Who's the culprit? My candidate is Jemaah Islamiya (JI), AlQaeda's nom de guerre in Southeast Asia. JI's connections with Al Qaeda rundeep. JI terrorists busted in Singapore have trained in Afghanistan andreceived funds from Al Qaeda financiers.

While JI has yet to drop a videotape off at Al Jazeera taking"credit" for this latest mass murder, intelligence analysts know the bombinghas the vicious stench and well-calculated cruelty of a JI operation.

Timing is one indicator. Indonesia is prosecuting and on theverge of sentencing several men involved in Islamo-fascist terror inIndonesia and throughout Southeast Asia. The group includes Muslim clericAbu Bakar Bashir. Bashir is JI's kingpin and is linked to the Bali savagery.

Target selection also points to JI. The Marriott isWestern-owned and frequented by foreign business travelers. It's locatednear several foreign embassies and not that far from one of Jakarta'sswankier neighborhoods. An attack on the hotel sends a not-too-subtlegeographic signal that Western contacts and Indonesia's moderate Muslimelites are JI targets.

Last December, while researching an article for The WeeklyStandard magazine on the counter-terror war in Southeast Asia, severalsources told me that until the Bali disaster the Indonesian governmenthadn't squarely faced the threat posed by JI. One source -- after aguarantee of anonymity -- told me that while Indonesian police understoodJI's menace, the government's lack of political will frustratedcounter-terror efforts.

Though JI targeted Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, andJakarata had evidence of JI contact with Islamist separatists in Indonesia'sAceh province, key leaders hoped that if "given some political leeway," JImight spare their country. After all, Indonesia is the world's most populousMuslim nation.

Hope isn't a method for dealing with terrorists. The Balicarnage shattered that political delusion. Not to excuse it, but Indonesiawasn't the first and won't be the last country to think terrorists can beassuaged or that a degree of terrorism can be tolerated. Arguably, theUnited States had similar notions prior to 9-11.

After Bali, Indonesia got serious, with over 50 arrests ofsuspected JI jihadis and major busts of weapons and explosives caches. Myown sources say Indonesia has damaged JI. That's good news, and regionalcounter-terror cooperation has improved. The bad news is many JI cellsremain intact.

JI's fanatics have large plans for the whole of Southeast Asia.In Singapore last year, I saw a copy of JI's map of an "Islamic state"stretching from south Thailand and Malaysia through the Filipino andIndonesian archipelagoes into Australia. Fanciful? After 9-11 only thewillfully hard-headed and the brutally hard-hearted can dismiss the dangerof such armed imperial megalomania.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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