|You are in: Asia-Pacific|
Monday, 23 December, 2002, 12:24 GMT
How terror came to Bali
The abrupt fall of the 32-year-old Suharto regime in 1998 threw much of Indonesia into chaos, sparking off separatist, religious and ethnic conflicts and bitter political rivalry.
The little island of Bali, sitting almost at the centre of the huge archipelago, seemed immune to these troubles, protected by the tolerance of its mainly Hindu population and its success as a tropical playground for tourists.
It was as though Bali was a different country.
That illusion was brutally shattered by the bombs which exploded outside two nightclubs in the beach resort of Kuta on 12 October.
Carefully planned to cause maximum casualties to Western holidaymakers, the bombs destroyed Bali's tourist industry overnight, and woke the rest of the world to the threat from terrorism in South East Asia.
For almost a year before the Bali bombs, the United States and Indonesia's neighbours had been warning the Indonesian Government of the risk posed by a network of Islamic militants in the region, known as Jemaah Islamiah (JI).
At the beginning of 2002, two Indonesians were arrested in the Philippines, charged with possessing explosives.
All these suspects talked about Jemaah Islamiah, and the leadership of a 64-year-old Muslim preacher, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who ran a religious boarding school in Central Java.
Then in June, a Kuwaiti man using the name Omar al-Faruq was detained in Indonesia and handed over to the US. According to his US interrogators in Afghanistan, he gave details of Jemaah Islamiah's ties to al-Qaeda.
The Indonesians for several months refused to move against Mr Ba'asyir. The government said that unlike some of its neighbours it did not have the luxury of detaining suspects indefinitely, and that any attempt to bring prominent Islamic figures before the country's incompetent courts was more likely to provoke a violent reaction among Muslims.
The Vice President, Hamzah Haz, even made high-profile visits to some of the best known militants, in an apparent attempt to boost his popularity.
Shocked out of complacency
The Bali bombs have shaken the Indonesian Government out of its complacency. A new anti-terrorism law was passed with uncharacteristic speed by the national parliament, giving stronger powers to the police to deal with suspected militants.
Mr Ba'asyir has been detained. And a police force with a reputation for unparalleled corruption and incompetence has made striking progress in tracking down those suspected of being behind the attack.
That led to the arrest two weeks later of Imam Samudra, another Indonesian, who has confessed to masterminding the operation.
Then on 4 December an even more significant figure, known as Mukhlas or Ali Gufron, was caught. He is the elder brother of Amrozi, who described him as the inspiration behind his decision to take up arms against the US.
Mukhlas is also believed to be the new commander of Jemaah Islamiah, replacing another Indonesian, Hambali or Riduan Isamuddin, who has gone into hiding.
The Indonesian police owe their rapid success of their investigation to the leadership of one of their best officers, Major General I Made Mangku Pastika, a native of Bali. And to the wealth of information they received from neighbouring countries' intelligence services and Australian forensic teams at the bomb site.
Indonesia's National Intelligence Agency (BIA) also knew a great deal about the plotters before the Bali tragedy, but was unable to act because of the government's lack of determination.
The decision to bomb the nightclubs on Bali may have originated in a meeting of Jemaah Islamiah operatives which took place in southern Thailand in January 2002, when Hambali is believed to have ordered a new strategy of hitting soft targets.
But the cells involved in the attacks appear to have worked in isolation from each other, and to have involved only Indonesian nationals. Imam Samudra denies receiving orders or funding from either Mukhlas or Hambali.
However the Indonesian authorities believe Imam Samudra and some of the other suspects were involved in a string of bomb attacks on churches in Indonesia two years ago.
Mr Ba'asyir is being held in connection with those bombings, not Bali, although it still is not clear what kind of role he may have played.
What the suspects do clearly have in common is their experience of living in Malaysia in the 1980s and 90s.
Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians go there in search of work every year, but at that time, when the Suharto regime was suppressing political Islam in Indonesia, many Islamic militants also fled to the more tolerant environment in Malaysia, only returning after the fall of Suharto in 1998.
A few went on to Afghanistan, where they received weapons and explosives training; the rest were inspired by the fiery preaching of Mr Baa'syir.
There is little evidence so far of direct involvement by al-Qaeda in the Bali bomb cells. They appear, instead, to be a kind of franchise of al-Qaeda, perhaps receiving some funding.
At least three cells are thought to have been involved in the Bali bombings, and experts believe other militants are still in Indonesia, possibly planning further attacks.
That view is borne out by another bomb attack on a McDonalds fast-food restaurant on the island of Sulawesi the day after Mukhlas was detained, which killed three people including the bomber.
But the apparent resolve of governments in South East Asia to root out Islamic extremists is undermined by the weak state of their police and judicial systems.
The Indonesian Government has an added difficulty in the hostility many Muslims there feel towards the US.
Many are convinced that the suspects behind the Bali bombings were detained only as a result of US pressure.
The Indonesian military, which is still very influential and which has secretly supported some Islamic militant groups, has had an ambivalent view of the US since Washington cut off all assistance to the armed forces after the violence in East Timor in 1999.
The "campaign against terrorism" in South East Asia is still unlikely to be prosecuted with all the speed and determination that the Bush administration would like.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Top Asia-Pacific stories now:
Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.
|E-mail this story to a friend|
Links to more Asia-Pacific stories
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>> | To BBC World Service>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy