Easy assumptions no key to diabolical problem
Easy assumptions no key to diabolical problem
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 4 minutes

Easy assumptions no key to diabolical problem

As Australians and Indonesians cope with the aftermath of the Jakarta embassy bombing and think about how to prevent another one, it is important avoid a few common assumptions.

If you catch the two prime suspects, Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top, the problem is solved.

Not true. There are other JI leaders at large who also are well-trained in the use of explosives, and more importantly, who have the capacity to mobilise others, inside and outside the JI network. They include Afghan war veterans like Zulkarnaen, the head of JI's military operations; Abu Dujana, a top member of the central command structure; Dulmatin, an electronics expert; and Nu'im, head of military operations for Jakarta.

They also include a younger generation trained in Mindanao, in the Philippines, and others with more homegrown experience in Poso or Ambon.

If Thursday's bombing was anything like past operations, it would have involved several different groups of people: the main strategists; the men who obtained, transported, and stored the bomb's ingredients; the men, usually much more junior, assigned to buy the vehicle used and rent rooms for those involved; the people responsible for casing targets; the technicians to make the bomb; and the dispensable foot-soldier to detonate it.

JI has to be much stronger and more resilient than we thought to pull off an attack like this.

On the contrary, JI has been seriously weakened over the past two years. Many of its leaders are behind bars; its administrative structure, in some areas, is in disarray; its communication and supply lines have been disrupted; and it is short of cash.

But this may have increased the determination of some of the group's ideologues to show that they can still pull off an operation of this size. Individual units of JI may be acting on their own initiative, without going through a central command structure. Individual JI members may be farming out their services to other, newly formed organisations. The weakening of JI could actually make the problem more complex, at least in the short run.

It is true that JI recruitment continues, and some members seem to be preparing their own children and younger siblings to continue the family tradition. But it will be difficult to replace the experience, leadership capacity, and international contacts of the men who built the organisation over the past decade.

Indonesia hasn't been serious about terrorism.

It's unfair to the Indonesian police, who have done so much to penetrate the JI organisation and track down its members, to suggest that they haven't been serious. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore all get high marks for law enforcement efforts.

The problem is that this issue goes beyond law enforcement. It requires a public information campaign, an analysis of ongoing recruitment efforts; policies designed to steer potential recruits in other directions; improved anti-corruption measures to stop the sale of arms, passports, and other identity cards; and much else.

It may also require tough action against a few institutions that have produced a disproportionate share of JI members, but here the Government has to be extremely careful. It has to avoid stigmatising the generally honourable Islamic school system on which millions of Indonesian students depend, and it has to avoid slipping back into a pattern of arbitrary arrests and curbs on basic freedoms that were the hallmark of the Soeharto days.

US foreign policy is the crux of the problem.

The US's one-sided support of Israel, the war in Iraq, and various aspects of the US-led war on terrorism have certainly not helped. But it is worth remembering that the first JI bombings on Indonesian soil and many thereafter were not committed in the name of avenging the deaths of Palestinians or victims of US aggression in Afghanistan or Iraq. The bombers went after one group of Indonesians that they accused of being responsible for the deaths of fellow Indonesians in Ambon.

Anti-US sentiment is at an all-time high, but ironically, it is too widespread to be a useful factor in explaining terrorist motivation. Clearly, the vast majority of angry Indonesians would never dream of using violence.

The bomb was related to Australia's election.

Until the perpetrators are arrested, we won't know their motives. But if this bombing fits the pattern of earlier ones, the embassy would have been one of several targets considered, and the selection would have been decided on the basis of both symbolic value and logistics.

The Marriott bombers looked at another hotel, the Jakarta international school, and the Australian school, and chose the Marriott because it was an American chain, and one could drive right up to the entrance. In Makassar in 2002 the bombers considered a Canadian mining company, an American-owned diving resort, a church, a McDonald's, and a car showroom owned by vice-presidential candidate Yusuf Kalla before selecting the latter two - again, partly because they were easier to get to.

Nothing in JI's past suggests its leaders paid too much attention to domestic politics, and the anniversary of September 11 may have been more of a factor than the elections. But nothing can be ruled out until the bombers are caught.

This attack could have been prevented.

Once suicide bombers are in the equation, prevention becomes a very difficult task. With the best-trained security forces, a determined government, and the most vigilant population in the world, Israel has not been able to stop such people. But we do need to understand how "martyrs" are recruited in Indonesia - because there will be more.

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