The arrest in Thailand of an alleged terrorist ringleader and the bombing of
a luxury hotel in Indonesia have shed new light on Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast
Asian affiliate of the al-Qaida terror network.
With the arrest this week of Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, analysts
say Jemaah Islamiyah has suffered a serious blow - but not a fatal one.
Authorities say Mr. Hambali, an Indonesian, not only holds a ranking position
in J.I., as the Southeast Asian terrorist organization is known, but is also
regional operations chief and money master for al-Qaida.
U.S. authorities say that at a meeting in Malaysia in January 2000, he hosted
two of the men who would later be involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks
on New York and the Pentagon. Al-Qaida is accused of carrying out those attacks.
He has also been linked by regional governments to a series of attacks in
the Philippines and Indonesia, including the bombing of churches across Indonesia
on Christmas Eve 2000.
Sidney Jones is an analyst with the European-based think tank, the International
"Hambali's greatest asset was a combination of international contacts and
a real strategic sense of where to target, how to target and how to bring the
group together so that the attack came off. He was probably responsible for
the coordination involved in the Christmas eve bombings of December 2000, for
example, where you had 11 cities across six provinces being targeted. It takes
a real mastermind to be able to do that," she said.
But Ms. Jones and other analysts say the arrest will not end the group's
ability to carry out attacks.
Zachary Abuza, an associate professor of political science at Simmons College
in the U.S. city of Boston, says J.I. probably numbers fewer than 1,500 people,
but is dangerous beyond its size.
"It's not that large, but it does have a very good and strong cadre of operatives
with technical expertise, a lot of skill, a lot of hatred, a lot of charisma, " he
said. "The only way we can really defeat this organization is if we can arrest
or kill the senior operatives faster than they can be trained."
Despite a series of small attacks, analysts say it took the October 12, 2002
bombing of two nightclubs on Indonesia's island of Bali, and the bombing this
month of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, to remove any lingering doubts
that Jemaah Islamiyah had taken root in Indonesia.
Two hundred two people were killed in Bali, while 12 have died and scores
were injured in the hotel bombing. Indonesia's defense minister says J.I. is
behind both bombings, but senior police officials say it is too soon to tell.
Indonesia's top security minister says such debate is beside the point, and
Indonesians must accept the reality of terrorists in their midst.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says the fact is, another terrorist attack has taken
place, and it took place in the capital. He says that is the proof that terrorists
are active in Indonesia.
Since the Bali attack, authorities have taken a closer look at one source of
J.I.'s foot soldiers - an Islamic boarding school founded by the group's alleged
spiritual leader, Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.
|Abu Bakar Bashir
(VOA photo - P. Nunan)
Mr. Bashir, 65, is now on trial in Jakarta for his alleged role in the December
2000 church bombings and other terrorist plots.
His school, al-Mukhmin, is part of the conservative "Ngruki" network of Muslim
schools. Ngruki is not a terrorist organization, but officials say Asmar Latinsani,
the suspected suicide bomber in the Marriott attack, graduated from Mr. Bashir's
school. So did two other J.I. suspects who helped police identify Mr. Asmar's
"Even though there are thousands of students who go through Ngruki and don't
end up as terrorists, I think it remains the case that it's not a coincidence
that we have so many people linked to Ngruki who have taken part in various
bombings," said Sidney Jones, "and that we have as head of the J.I. network
the man who was most associated in the public's mind with Ngruki."
Professor Abuza of Simmons College agrees, and says other groups of Indonesians
may also fall under the influence of Muslim extremists.
|VOA's Scott Bobb
interviewing Abu Bakar Bashir
(VOA photo - P. Nunan)
"One of the things that really bothers me right now is that you have a fairly
literate and computer-savvy group of college students right now in Indonesia
with very little hope for employment," he said. "And so they sit around all
day and they hack and they surf the Net and they learn their Islam online.
They don't really understand Islam very much. They're simply getting some very
simplistic and raw understanding."
Indonesian officials have said they want to question Mr. Hambali, who is
reportedly in U.S. custody.
No matter where he is questioned, Southeast Asian governments hope his arrest
will reveal more about the extent to which religious extremism and its violent
corollary, terrorism, have permeated the region.