Originally Published 2005-10-07 05:50:06 Published on Oct 07, 2005
The explosions of October 1, 2005, in the predominantly Hindu-inhabited tourist resort island of Bali in Indonesia came on the eve of two important religious observances¿¿on the eve of the Dusserah (called Galungan in Bali) festival, which the Hindus all over the world observe as marking the triumph of good over evil and the Muslim holy fasting period of Ramadan.
Jihadi Terrorism in South East Asia
The explosions of October 1, 2005, in the predominantly Hindu-inhabited tourist resort island of Bali in Indonesia came on the eve of two important religious observances--on the eve of the Dusserah (called Galungan in Bali) festival, which the Hindus all over the world observe as marking the triumph of good over evil and the Muslim holy fasting period of Ramadan. The explosions also came eleven days before the third anniversary of the explosions of October 12, 2002, in the same island in which 202 innocent civilians were killed, the majority of them foreigners, with the Australians constituting the largest single group.

The explosions of 2002 came at a time when there was considerable anger over what was perceived by large sections of the Muslims of Indonesia as Australia's role in the separation of East Timor from Indonesia. They also came at a time when the US was stepping up its psywar campaign against the Saddam Hussein Government in Iraq as a prelude to the ultimate invasion and occupation of Iraq in March-April 2003.

The perceived role of Australia in East Timor hardly figures now in the propaganda campaign of the pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorist organisations based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan and Bangladesh regions. The firm anti-immigration measures of the Australian Government against illegal Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries also no longer figure prominently in their campaign.

The role of the Australian troops in Iraq and the reported re-induction of some elements of the Australian special forces into Afghanistan to join in the US hunt for Osama bin Laden and other survivors of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban are still a cause for jihadi anger against Australia, but in a sliding scale of the jihadi anger, their anger against the US, the UK, Italy, Germany (because of its role in Afghanistan) and France (because of its perceived discriminatory measures against local Muslims) in that order keeps them preoccupied more than their anger against Australia. Al Qaeda's operational targeting is directed more against these countries and their nationals, wherever found, than against Australia or its nationals.

I would thus grade, on the basis of the presently available evidence, the likelihood of a jihadi terrorist strike, commanded and controlled by the Al Qaeda's central leadership, against Australia and its nationals as medium only, even at the risk of my going wrong in my assessment. However, I would grade the likelihood of a jihadi terrorist strike against Australia and the Australians in the Australian homeland and in South-East Asia---particularly in Indonesia--- from the fraternal jihadi allies of the Al Qaeda in the International Islamic Front (IIF) as medium plus and even high. Of the two fraternal jihadi components of the IIF, those posing the highest threat to Australian nationals and interests are the Jemaah Islamiyah of South-East Asia and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), which has a sizable following in the Muslim migrant community of Australia, particularly from amongst those of Pakistani origin. A third organisation, which has been extending its clandestine presence to S.E.Asia and Australia, is the Hizbut Tehrir (HT), which has the same political objective (an Islamic Caliphate) as the Al Qaeda and the IIF, but it ostensibly shuns violence. It says it wants to achieve this objective through political agitation.

It is against this background that one has to analyse the latest explosions in Bali, in which three suicide bombers are said to have been involved by the local police. Their suspicion seems to be directed at seven absconding members of the Jemaah Islamiyah. All of them were allegedly involved in the explosions of October 2002, but two of them could never be arrested. The remaining five were arrested and successfully prosecuted for what seemed to be their peripheral role in the 2002 explosions, but have since reportedly come out of jail after completing their sentence.

Amongst the questions which come to mind are: Why Bali a second time? Were the explosions deliberately timed to almost coincide with the Hindu and Muslim religious occasions? Why suicide terrorism? Who were the real targets--foreign tourists in general or the Australian tourists in particular? Did the explosions also reflect any anger against the present Indonesian Government?

One of the possible reasons for choosing Bali a second time figuring in some analyses is the fact that being a predominantly Hindu island , the possibility of collateral Muslim casualties would be less. While this reason is plausible, it cannot be the over-riding factor, which influenced the decision of the jihadi terrorists to organise another strike in Bali. More likely reasons are the availability of more soft targets in the island, the greater international attention which a successful strike in Bali would bring the terrorists in view of the congregation of a large number of tourists from different countries there, and either the easy availability of explosive materials locally or the greater possibility of smuggling explosive material into the island undetected by the police.

There is as yet no reason to believe that the explosions were deliberately timed to coincide with the Hindu religious festival. The JI and other jihadi terrorist groups in Indonesia have so far shown no sign of anger against the Hindus, though there is considerable anger against the Christians, who are seen as their enemy and as the pawns of the West. However, the LET, which has been playing an increasingly global role and on which the Al Qaeda is coming to depend for the recruitment of Pakistani and other non-Arab volunteers for suicide missions, is a strongly anti-Hindu organisation. When it came into being in Pakistan in the 1980s, one of its objectives was to rid Islam in the Indian sub-continent of what it portrays as the corrupting influence of Hinduism. In the madrasas controlled by it in Pakistan, in one of which in Karachi the brother of Hambali, the former operational chief of the JI, and a dozen other Indonesians and Malaysians were caught studying by the Pakistani authorities and deported, one of the subjects taught is the importance of the Arabisation of Islam in Indonesia by ridding it of the lingering influence of Hinduism. The LET projects the Hindus of Bali as a corrupting influence on the Muslims of Indonesia and wants the JI to target them. However, the explosions of October 1,2005, were not directed at the local Hindus.

The resort to suicide terrorism was apparently meant to ensure the success of the operation and to serve as an example for other Muslims to follow. Every successful act of suicide terrorism--particularly on occasions such as the holy fasting period--and the admiration evoked in the Muslim community by the so-called martyrdom of the suicide bombers brings in more volunteers for suicide missions.

There is as yet no evidence to show that the explosions might have been deliberately targeted against the Australians. They seem to have been targeted against the foreign--particularly Western--tourists as a whole, without targeting any nationality in particular. The real target was what is perceived as the polluting Western culture and influence and not any Western nationals in particular. The widespread perception in large sections of the Islamic world that the Westerners and the Israelis are the suppressors of the Muslims contributes to the urge to look for opportunities for acts of reprisals against them.

Anger against the present Indonesian Government does not seem to be a motive for the explosions. Indonesia rarely figures in the list of apostate countries frequently mentioned by the Al Qaeda and other members of the IIF.

One should not blow up the Bali explosions out of proportion and thereby impart to the JI an over-stated image out of sync with reality. The operations of the JI in Indonesia during the last four years have been sporadic and not sustained. It does not seem to have a capability--at least as yet--for a continuous and sustained campaign of terrorism similar to what one has been seeing in Southern Thailand since the beginning of last year. One has not yet seen any signs of a capability of the JI to transform its present tactical campaign of sporadic strikes into a strategic campaign of sustained insurgency. The dangers of Indonesia becoming an Iraq or Afghanistan of S.E..Asia do not appear to be high unless the Indonesian Government mishandles the situation badly, thereby driving a large number of its citizens into the hands of the jihadi terrorists.

One has reasons to be more worried about the deteriorating situation in Southern Thailand than about the situation in Indonesia. What started as sporadic acts of terrorism in the beginning of last year have been transformed into sustained acts of insurgency--marked by a steady flow of volunteers and with a mix of modus operandi involving the use of hand-held weapons as well as explosives reminiscent of the MO adopted by the jihadi terrorist organisations of Pakistan and Bangladesh such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the LET. One sees more the finger-prints of these organisations in Southern Thailand than those of the JI.

Carefully targeted killings of different sections of the local population and the security forces perceived as the enemies of Islam speak of a well-planned campaign with a large reservoir of material and human resources at its disposal. The gunning-down by the jihadi terrorists of five Thai soldiers at a military check-point on October 5 is indicative of the unchecked deterioration of the situation, despite the promulgation of emergency powers to strengthen the hands of the security forces.

Whereas in Indonesia the anger is more against Westerners than against the Indonesian authorities themselves, with practically no instances of targeted killings of individual members of the security forces, in Southern Thailand the anger is more against the local authorities and against the non-Muslim segments of the population than against foreign influences.

While there are as yet no indications that the acts of jihadi terrorism in Indonesia are being commanded and controlled from outside the affected region, there is clear-cut evidence that the jihadi terrorism in Southern Thailand is being commanded and controlled from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Local security measures by the Thai authorities alone are unlikely to put an end to this sustained campaign of terrorism in the absence of effective action by the Pakistani and Bangladeshi authorities to eradicate the network in their countries which has been providing the oxygen to the jihad in Southern Thailand.

The diplomatic missions in Kuala Lumpur of the US, Russia, Britain, France, Australia, Japan, Germany, Thailand, Canada, the Philippines, and Singapore received suspicious looking parcels on October 4,2005, with the following message "You have been infected with a biochemical weapon. Curse you for what you have done to the Muslim ummah." Though nothing dangerous was found inside the parcels, the warnings were reminiscent of those circulated by the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen of Bangladesh when it organised about 450 minor explosions, not causing many human casualties, all over Bangladesh on August 17, 2005. While the warnings in Bangladesh were mainly directed at the US and the UK, the warnings in Kuala Lumpur indicate the large number of countries whom the local jihadis perceive as the enemies of Islam. The despatch of these parcels three days after the Bali explosions seems to have been spur-of-the-moment jihadi actions by local extremists. It does not appear to have been co-ordinated beforehand with the Bali explosions.

The prairie fire of post-9/11 jihadi terrorism, which started in Bali in October 2002, and from there spread to Mombasa, Casablanca, Istanbul, Madrid, London and Sharm-el-Sheikh, has spread back to Bali and from there could spread again in new directions. The jihadi fire shows no signs of being brought under control. (6-10-05)

Note: To be read in continuation of the author's earlier article on the Bali explosions of October 1, 2005, accessible at http://www.saag.org/papers16/paper1560.html

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow, International Terrorism Watch Programme, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), and Convenor of its Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]

Source: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1566, October 6, 2005
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