Originally Published 2004-01-17 08:53:13 Published on Jan 17, 2004
Twelve innocent civilians, 11 of them Indonesian nationals, were killed in an explosion on August 5, 2003, in the US-franchised JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta. The Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was suspected. If the JI is ultimately established to have been responsible, it would be the second major post-9/11 terrorist strike organised by it
2003: Jihadi Terrorism in S. E. Asia
Executive Summary

The Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which has been in the forefront of jihadi terrorism in the South-East Asian region, suffered many reverses during 2003 due to the detection of some of its clandestine cells and the arrest of many of its members. Despite this, its capability for fresh acts of jihadi terrorism has not been neutralised beyond repair. The reported discovery of its links with Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) should be of concern to the countries of the region because of the LET's advocay and practice of suicide terrorism and to India as well because of the presence of a large number of persons of Indian origin in this region, who could be targeted by it for its future recruitment for its operations in South India.

Twelve innocent civilians, 11 of them Indonesian nationals, were killed in an explosion on August 5, 2003, in the US-franchised JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta. The Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was suspected. If the JI is ultimately established to have been responsible, it would be the second major post-9/11 terrorist strike organised by it, the earlier one being the Bali explosion of October,2002. The Indonesian authorities suspect the JI to be having close links with Al- Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden.

Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, viewed by many as the operational head of the JI, was arrested in Thailand in August last year. His arrest is perceived by the counter-terrorism experts of the region as a major breakthrough in the fight against terrorism in South-East Asia. Hambali,who is aged about 40, is wanted by the counter-terrorism authorities of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines for a series of bomb attacks in the last couple of years. At the time of his arrest, he was said to have been planning to bomb embassies and use missiles to attack commercial airliners in Bangkok. 3.He had been suspected in the past of having arranged a meeting between two of the September 11,2003, hijackers--- Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi --- and other Al-Qaeda figures in Malaysia in January 2000. Indonesian authorities had linked Hambali specifically with the Bali attack. He was thought to have been the brain behind the Bali operation. After his arrest in Thailand by the local authorities , he was handed over to the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for interrogation. He is yet to be handed over to the Indonesian authorities for interrogation in connection with his suspected involvement in the Bali explosion.

After his arrest, Zulkarnaen, who used to be the JI's military head, is said to be exercising the leadership role in the organisation. Like Hambali, Zulkarnaen too is suspected to be having links with Al-Qaeda. Available particulars indicate that he is well educated and well motivated and is believed to have a wide network of contacts in the world of international jihadi terrorism.

The Jakarta Superior Court overturned Abu Bakar Baasyir's treason and sedition conviction last November and reduced his jail term on other charges from four years to three. According to the judges, the prosecutors failed to prove that he had taken part in a plot by the JI to overthrow the Indonesian Government. Many believe that he led the JI until 2000. He has also been accused of orchestrating a series of church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000. Though he has also been projected as linked to the Bali bombing, he has not been officially named as a suspect in that attack. He is widely known as the spiritual head of the JI.

The JI sustained heavy reverses last year. Almost a hundred of its members have been arrested, including Hambali. This has placed the organisation under considerable operational pressure, but, despite this, its regional spread remains largely intact. Its network stretches across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Last year saw the detection of a suspected JI cell even in Cambodia. While the measures taken by Singapore and Malaysia have been quiet effective and have prevented the group from carrying out any strikes from their territory, the same cannot be said of Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

The JI's principal goals are the establishment of Islamic governments across the region followed by the formation of a unified South-East Asian Islamic state covering southern Thailand, the Malay Peninsula (including Singapore), Indonesia and the southern Philippines..

The Philippines and Indonesia have been the main areas of concern in the region. Though the Megawati Sukarnoputri administration in Indonesia has come out strongly against the JI after the Bali explosion and vigorously pursued the investigation into the explosion and the prosecution of the accused, the JI is still not a proscribed organisation in Indonesia. The country continues to lack the needed political consensus to fight terrorism. Lack of co-ordination among the police and intelligence agencies has come in the way of progress in the counter-terrorism operations. The Presidential elections, which are due to be held in the country later this year, and the continuing anti-American sentiment among large sections of the population have also contributed to the unsatisfactory state of the counter-terrorism operations.

Reports received during the year spoke of the presence of JI training camps in the southern Philippines under the protection of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Philippines Government has still not been able to establish effective control over the southern part of the country. There were allegations that the armed forces of the country are corrupt and take bribes to allow supplies, including arms and ammunition, through to the MILF terrorists. The post-9/11 training received by the Filipino Security Forces from their US counterparts does not appear to have had any significant impact on their counter-terrorism capability.

There were reports that the JI is revamping its operational capability to make up for the reverses suffered by it. It is said that a new generation of terrorists is being groomed by the group, consisting of the sons of Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean JI members. It is the assessment of the regional counter-terrorism officials that while there has been considerable disruption in its activities and command and control, its capability has not yet been neutralised beyond repair.

The links of the JI with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) of Pakistan, which has been responsible for many of the acts of terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and other parts of India, were exposed during 2003 following the reported discovery of a clandestine JI cell in Karachi set up with the help of the LET. The cell called 'Al-Ghuraba' meaning foreigners was reportedly set up in 1999 by Hambali for training young JI members. It was initially headed by Abdul Rahim, son of Abu Bakar Baasyir.

It was dismantled by the Pakistani authorities in September last when they arrested 19 Indonesians and Malaysians studying in two madrasas of Karachi, one of which was reportedly run by the LET. Among the six Indonesians arrested by the Pakistani authorities was Rusman Gunawan, the younger brother of Hambali, who was allegedly training young JI members. The Indonesians were deported to their country on December 10, four days before the arrival of the Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in Pakistan on an official visit, during which she was reported to have discussed with Pakistani leaders, inter alia, co-operation in counter-terrorism.

The Singapore authorities claimed to have arrested two members of the JI who had reportedly undergone training in an LET camp in Pakistan.

The LET had in the past come to notice for recruiting volunteers from amongst the persons of Indian origin living and working in the Gulf countries and motivating and training them for use in its acts of terrorism in Mumbai and other places in India outside J&K. Its newly-detected interest in S.E.Asia and its reported role in the training of JI recruits should be of concern to India in view of the presence of a large number of persons of Indian origin in S.E.Asia.

This underlines the need for a greater attention by the Indian counter-terrorism authorities in general and by those of the southern States of India in particular to a study of jihadi terrorism in South-East Asia and its likely future implications for India and for closer intelligence co-operation with the countries of the region and with the regional counter-terrorism centre reportedly being set up in Kuala Lumpur.

During the second India-ASEAN summit held on October 8,2003, in Bali in Indonesia, a comprehensive agreement on combating terrorism was signed by both sides. India and the ASEAN reaffirmed the importance of having a framework for cooperation to prevent, disrupt and fight international terrorism through the exchange of information and intelligence.

The LET believes in suicide terrorism and has been responsible for a large number of fedayeen attacks or acts of suicide terrorism in India since 1999. Its role in training JI recruits could presage the emergence of suicide terrorism in a big way in the South-East Asian region one day. This should be of concern to the counter-terrorism authorities of the region.(17-1-04)

(The writer is a post-graduate of the University of Madras and works in the International Terrorism Watch Project of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). He is based in its Chennai Chapter. His E-Mail address: [email protected])

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.

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