The list has a doom-laden inevitability about it: 2002 first Bali bombing; 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta; 2004 Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta; 2005 second Bali bombing.
These outrages are all believed to have involved Noordin Mohammed Top, a Malaysian citizen who is allegedly one of the key bomb makers for the Indonesian jihadist group Jemaah Islamiya and one of Asia’s most wanted men. The concern for authorities in Jakarta and Canberra is that he will not want the year to slip by without another headline-grabbing atrocity.
It is a proposition supported by the South-East Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group, Sidney Jones. Speaking at a meeting of the Canberra branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, she said media hype about this time of the year being the “bombing season” in Indonesia, has some basis in fact.
“I am sure that despite all the pressure that Noordin and company remain under now, they will at least make an attempt to do something by the end of the year,” she said.
The ICG, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to resolving conflict through analysis and advocacy, believes JI has undergone a radical transformation since the first Bali bombing claimed 202 lives, many of them Australian tourists, four years ago. Ms Jones says Indonesian authorities have struck some telling blows with more than 300 arrests, taking out much of the organisation’s “middle management”.
However, this has not crippled JI. Rather it has fragmented into a number of small cells, working entirely independently of each other, which have the potential to cause even greater problems. Although many of them are amateurish and lack resources “it only needs one or two of them to be successful”, she said.
“What this means is that even if Noordin is arrested tomorrow, the danger posed by jihadism in Indonesia is not going to go away anytime soon.”
What is even more ominous is that the ICG has now discounted early analysis that last year’s second Bali bombing was a slipshod effort carried out by a coterie of amateurs desperate for any kind of impact. On the contrary, it believes it was a meticulously planned operation with a cold acceptance of what is no longer possible and what can still be achieved.
Bali was chosen again not for any idealistic beliefs that a bombing would undermine the country’s fledgling democracy, or that it would cause economic chaos in the province, simply that it would saturate media coverage both in Indonesian and Western media around the world.
The group opted for smaller backpack bombs because security has become too tight for vehicles and it no longer has the team available for the complicated assembly a car bomb involves. Security also means major Western-style hotels are impractical targets so the softer options of crowded restaurants were pursued.
Clues to the group’s aims and motivation can be found in literature discovered after the second Bali bombings, including a rather frightening manual, obviously produced for international consumption, which goes into the minute details of running a terrorist cell in a world of heightened security awareness and tough counter-terrorism measures.
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About the Author
Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.
He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.