Sunday, August 9, 2009

Omen: From the Grave, Bali Bombers’ Warning Takes Life

Ahead of their execution last November, the three Bali bombers — Imam Samudra and brothers Amrozi and Mukhlas — issued a brazen threat: Anyone involved in their case faced their brethren’s militant wrath.

The warning extended from the judges who handled the bombers’ trials right up to the president himself. We saw the fruit of this lethal presage over the weekend, when police said they foiled a plot to attack a house owned by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The head of state knows that he is a target of the militants’ fury: He oversaw the execution of the three bombers; he adheres to the mainstream of Islam (as does the overwhelming majority of Muslim Indonesia); and he is market-oriented with an eye to the Western world, including firm relations with the United States and Britain. Speaking to the media after two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels on July 17, Yudhoyono appeared rattled and teary, as he held up images of himself purportedly showing he was the target of a would-be assassination attempt.

It was an imprudent public moment of weakness for the president that opened up a fissure of vulnerability that will be prized apart by the terrormongers. Instead of vociferously standing up to the threat, which had hours earlier been realized, Yudhoyono allowed the terrorists a moment to bask in their ignominious actuated deeds. The all-out war between the state and those who seek to destroy it — grouped under the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah or its various splinter organizations — and impose some kind of reinvented caliphate in its place was thought all-but won, given the lack of attacks in recent years. During that time of apparent lull, JI was assiduously expanding, obtaining funds and materials to plan further strikes, recruiting new members who would enact the plots with their lives.

The audacious raid by counterterrorism police on a farmhouse outside the Central Java town of Beji, in which suspected terrorist mastermind Noordin M Top was ostensibly gunned down, will be nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory for the authorities if they do no manage to contain and shut down what appears to be a virulently metastasizing network of attack-planning cells around the country. The proof of that will be in more strikes to come.

Emboldened by the success of the Jakarta hotel attacks last month, the militants are setting their destructive sights ever higher. One media report over the weekend said an upcoming target was the State Palace itself, a heavily fortified building in Central Jakarta whose access streets are permanently closed and fronted by barbed wire.

In order to deracinate the terrorist threat, the authorities need to focus on the mind-washing boarding schools that dot areas of Central Java. There, young men who feel disconnected with society, either through lack of opportunity or abject poverty, are easily indoctrinated into malevolent philosophies and become naive foot soldiers in a defective struggle that has little support nationwide.

If Top was removed in the weekend’s operation in Central Java — police are holding off confirming the death, prior to DNA cross-checks, given previous false assertions as to the alleged terrorist’s demise — that will be one element of this terrorist hydra that has been amputated, but only that. Complacency must not again be an option for the authorities, or the public, because there is an ever-present danger of regeneration.

As National Police Chief Gen. Bambang Danuri said at a news conference on Saturday night, Top is not the only target of police; there are any number of other, similar operatives at large, a number of whom are reported to have fled the Beji farmhouse during the early stages of the raid. And while that was happening, a separate raid on a house just outside Jakarta uncovered two suspected militants who were surrounded by explosives and said to be in the late stages of planning to attack President Yudhoyono’s house. They were shot and killed.

It is not that police have been idling while the peril grew. There have been dozens of raids in the last few years that have netted and killed key suspects, among them Top cohort and fellow Malaysian, Azahari Husin, who died in a hail of police gunfire in 2005. (Densus 88, the elite US-trained counterterrorism unit, might do well to attempt to capture suspected terrorist leaders alive, so as to later attempt extraction of pertinent intelligence concerning how cells operate and what any upcoming targets are. Such individuals are worth far more alive — dead men don’t, as a rule, talk. Blowing a house to smithereens, as in Beji, makes for good live television, and reassures an anxious public, but may, in the long term, be counterproductive.)

It is evident that the terrorism threat has not passed.

Jakarta and Bali — because of their perceived affluence relative to other parts of the country, and the number of foreigners present — remain prime targets of militants’ seemingly unquenchable ire. And as with the latest strikes, nowhere is immune, no matter how beefed-up security is.

The three Bali bombers went to their graves calling themselves martyrs for their cause. They vowed vengeance. We are now seeing this played out.

By William J. Furney managing editor of the Bali Times.

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