TCS Daily

Islamic Terrorism's Broad Front

By Alan Oxley - September 10, 2004 12:00 AM

Can it be a coincidence that in the week leading up to the anniversary of 9/11, Islamic terrorists strike in Southern Russia, and then in Jakarta, Indonesia, against an Australian target? The answer is no. It is a reminder that the Islamic terrorists are fighting on a global front.

The suicide bomb attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on 9 September on the surface appears to have strong local motives. Indonesia, a nation to which democracy has been only recently restored, is in the throes of a second round of a Presidential election campaign. Any terrorist attack would embarrass the incumbent, Megawati Soekarnoputri, who is seeking reelection. "Leader not in charge" is a damaging headline in Jakarta.

She may anyway lose the election because she is seen as a "hands off" leader. The irony is that bombing may have occurred because her government, particularly the police force, is succeeding in its campaign against terrorism. American Sydney Jones, who is an expert on Islamic terrorism in Asia with the International Crisis Group, points out that Jemaah Islamiah, the south east Asian associate of Al Qaeda, is becoming increasingly frustrated at the success of the Indonesia's police force at rounding up its members who were responsible for two previous lethal terrorist bombings, first in Bali and then at the Marriot Hotel in Jakarta.

Two weeks ago, Indonesia authorities rearrested Abu Bakar Bashir, the Indonesian cleric suspected as the real leader of Jemaah Islamiah. He had been goaled on lesser immigration charges and was due for release. He is now charged with responsibility for the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta and regarded as responsible for the deadlier Bali bombing two years before which killed around 200 people. Indonesians ask "is the bombing retaliation for the arrest?"

The attack on the Australian Embassy killed 9 (mostly Indonesian security employees at the guardhouse) and wounded nearly 200 in the immediate vicinity. The bomb-hardened Australia Embassy stood intact. Australians, in the midst of their own election campaign, ask if this is a repeat effort, like the railway bombing in Spain, to turn the course of the Australian election by reminding Australians they are terrorist targets while they are in Iraq?

Sydney Jones has made a telling point. "This was a very professional bombing. These require careful and long term planning". The timetable for the Indonesian Presidential election was fixed, but the dates of the re arrest of Bashir and the Australian election were not. The timings seems more evidently related to 911. And the grim prognostication of some experts in Indonesia is that the bombings will continue in Indonesia until the tiny cadre of committed suicide bombers destroy themselves.

There are those in Australia who want to argue Australia was targeted in Indonesia because it was a founding member of the Coalition of the Willing and put troops into Afghanistan and Iraq. One hundred Australians died at the bombing in Bali. The target was a club frequented by tourists, mostly Australian, although it appears the bombers believed they were targeting Western tourists and Americans.

Jemaah Islamiah certainly regards Australia as a foe, but for broader reasons than Afghanistan and Iraq. Two years before Al Qaeda struck in Manhattan, Jemaah Islamiah had identified Australia as an enemy of Islam because the Australian Army pushed irregular Indonesian military forces out of East Timor after a UN-sponsored referendum found the tiny Christian enclave in Eastern Indonesia wanted independence.

The atrocity in Beslan and the kidnapping of French journalists remind everybody that Islamic terrorism is driven by more than just the conflict in Iraq. So do Jemaah Islamiah's activities in Indonesia. It was not lost on Indonesians that the terrorists chose the island of Bali for its most lethal bombing. Indonesia is the world's biggest Muslim nation, but Bali is a Hindu enclave. One hundred Balinese died in the Bali bombing.

The war continues.

Alan Oxley hosts the Asia Pacific page of TCS and is head of Australia's national APEC Centre


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