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Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 01:32 GMT 02:32 UK
Combating terror in South-East Asia
Indonesian troops patrol in Ambon
Indonesia is under US pressure to act

In the aftermath of 11 September, Islamic militant networks in South-East Asia quickly became a focus of attention.

Groups with previous links to Osama Bin Laden were singled out by the US, Indonesian and Philippine governments.

But because of local conditions, there has been a stark contrast in the way Jakarta and Manila have approached the issue of terrorism.


Jakarta has moved cautiously against those identified by the US as terrorists

In Indonesia, a mainly Muslim establishment is prone to identify Christian separatist groups as problematic and to draw a line between local Islamic groups and international terrorism.

In the Philippines, a mainly Catholic establishment with close ties to Washington is waging a high-profile fight against Muslim separatists in the south of the country.

In both countries, Islamic networks are linked to each other and to international militancy through volunteers who fought in Bosnia, Chechnya and particularly in Afghanistan.

'Vice and virtue'

In Indonesia, the two most prominent militant groups are Laskar Jihad and the Defenders of Islam Front (FPI).

The FPI is a self-appointed "vice and virtue" squad which targets bars and karaoke parlours.


The fear is that hasty action runs the risk of creating martyrs

Laskar Jihad has been implicated in shooting, bombing and arson attacks on Christians in Sulawesi and Maluku. Its leader, Jafar Umar Thalib, was recently arrested for advocating violence against Christians.

The Indonesian authorities, however, believe that neither has the capacity to mount terror attacks beyond Indonesia.

Economic crisis

Faced with these domestic problems, and with widespread sympathy for Islamic groups, Jakarta has moved cautiously against those identified by the US as terrorists.

The fear is that hasty action runs the risk of creating martyrs.

Laskar Jihad leader Jafar Umar Thalib
Thalib - on trial for inciting violence
Widespread unemployment and law and order problems since the economic crisis of 1997 have swelled the number of potential recruits for militant groups.

Jakarta's main problem is keeping control of potential terrorist groups without abusing human rights, or being seen as too pro-American.

The US Congress recently approved a $50m payment to Indonesia for anti-terrorist purposes - and for Jakarta to do Washington's bidding in terms of arrests would open it to damaging charges of being in the US's pocket.

US help

In the Philippines, however, the government was quick to label its own Muslim rebels as terrorists, and ask for US help in crushing them.


Manila has been the USA's staunchest supporter in regional groupings

Of particular concern are the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) - engaged for some years in guerrilla warfare against the Philippine army - and the Abu Sayyaf group, well-known for kidnapping foreigners, including several Americans.

US help quickly arrived in the form of the "Balikatan 02" exercises. These saw US and Philippine troops training together in the regions worst affected by the insurgency.

Manila has also been the USA's staunchest supporter in regional groupings such as Asean.

More problematic for the US and its allies are trans-national groups, such as Jemaah Islamiyah.

Planned attacks on US interests in Singapore were attributed to this group, which has possible al-Qaeda links.

Several Indonesians arrested in the Philippines on explosives charges have been linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, as have several Singaporean terrorist suspects whom the authorities claim have fled to Indonesia.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

12 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
11 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
27 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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