Saturday, August 22, 2009

In the cross-hairs of a terror group

THE Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) has been brought in to provide tighter security for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, following revelations that Malaysian terrorist mastermind Noordin Top had made him the target of a bomb plot.
Renewed calls for the pervasive territorial military structure to be mobilised to look out for suspicious activity suggest the military will in future also play a discreetly larger role in the struggle to contain Indonesia's home-grown radicals. Dr Yudhoyono is normally under the protection of the Presidential Guard, a battalion-size unit equipped with armoured cars. But recent changes to his security detail suggest more specialised help is now needed in the face of threats from Islamic militants.

Well-placed sources say the terrorist group planned to detonate a truck bomb as the President's motorcade passed by on one of the narrow roads leading to his walled Cikeas home at the edge of Bogor, south of Jakarta, where he spends most of his down time.

The arrest of militant Amir Abdillah in North Jakarta on Aug 5 triggered a raid on a house in Jakarta's western suburb of Bekasi in which the two would-be bombers were killed - just a fortnight before the operation targeting the President was due to be launched. Police investigators claim to have found a small truck, reportedly rigged with about 500kg of explosives, only a 12-minute drive away from Dr Yudhoyono's sprawling private residence.

The assassination plot and last month's blasts at Jakarta's JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels would have required about 20 people to pull off, an indication that Noordin has more people at his disposal than was previously thought. Analysts say the failure to capture or kill the Malaysian should not be used to question the effectiveness of the police, who have performed admirably in arresting more than 430 militants over the past nine years.

But the military has been privately critical of the prolonged Aug 8 police siege of the farmhouse in Central Java where Noordin was believed to have been hiding. They say better tactics should have been used to capture Ibrohim, the sole occupant who had acted as field commander for the hotel bombings.

Ibrohim, Abdillah and Saifuddin Jaelani - the Poso veteran who recruited the suicide bombers - are all related, underlining the way family ties provide the glue for the terrorist network. It later transpired that Noordin had left two days before the raid. But what concerns Dr Yudhoyono and his security advisers is that the militants had used the isolated Temanggung house for four years without detection. They believe that may not have been the case if the military's territorial structure, which has roots going down to the village level, had been more actively engaged in looking out for suspicious activities. In a teleconference with the country's 33 provincial governors five days after the hotel blasts, Dr Yudhoyono said he was appalled that regional civilian officials were unaware that they were also constitutionally obliged to take part in territorial awareness programmes.
While the military's previous 'dual function' role has been formally discarded, officials say it is still bound to the principle of being a people's defence force and of remaining sensitive to the prevailing socio-cultural environment.
Says Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono: 'While the police, true to the precepts of democratic accountability, are good at investigating events after the fact, the army has the anticipatory capacity to fend off or deter terrorist activities.' Dr Yudhoyono made a similar mobilisation call following the 2005 Bali bombing and also quietly attached 20 Kopassus intelligence specialists to the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) to help familiarise civilian operatives with various surveillance techniques. He has, however, been careful to keep Kopassus away from active involvement in the anti-terrorist effort, no doubt mindful of its poor image and the fact that it is now headed by his brother-in-law, Major-General Pramono Edhie Wibowo.

Maj-Gen Wibowo has spent much of his career in the special forces, at one time serving as head of Detachment 81, the counter-terrorism unit that would be called on to tackle any operation, such as an aircraft hijacking, that is beyond police capabilities. Meanwhile, the hunt for Noordin is likely to continue focusing on Central Java and also Banten at the western end of the island, one of the main stomping grounds for the radical Darul Islam movement of the 1950s. While he may have broken away from the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) organisation in 2004, there are still JI malcontents and a string of radical Muslim boarding schools in both areas that would be prepared to provide him refuge. Analysts say his source of funding for the latest attacks has important implications, particularly if the money trail leads overseas. If it does, then his eventual death is unlikely to bring an early end to the bombings.

The Malaysian follows an Al-Qaeda fatwa which states that in addition to Western governments, taxpayers and businessmen are fair game because they are seen to be financing the persecution of Muslims around the world. His terror group also considered bombing the Indonesian Supreme Court building in retaliation for the conviction of the 2002 Bali bombers.

But while targeting government institutions is nothing new, this is the first time the Indonesian President himself has been in the cross-hairs of a terrorist group.

The Straits Times (Singapore)
John McBeth, Senior Writer

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