Bombs in Bali, despite crackdown
Islamic terrorists are suspects in three bombings that killed at least 26 people, officials say.
JAKARTA, INDONESIA AND CAIRO
After three years of major successes against Southeast Asia's deadliest terror group - including dozens of arrests, prosecutions of key figures, and improved intelligence sharing across the region - Indonesia was hit again on Saturday. Despite doing many of the right things, experts say the bombings in Bali indicate how difficult it is to root out Islamist terrorism once it's established in a society.Skip to next paragraph
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Indonesian officials said Sunday they suspected two fugitives linked to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) had masterminded the suicide bombings of three restaurants on the tourist island, which killed at least 26 people and injured more than 100.
In countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, a decade of counterterrorist operations have not entirely removed the threat in those societies, suggesting a long road ahead not only for Indonesia but for countries such as Iraq, where Islamist terrorism has become endemic in the past two years.
JI has historical and ideological links to an older Indonesian militant group, the Darul Islam, notes Sidney Jones, one of the world's leading authorities on the militant group, in a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG). "Darul Islam's ability to adapt and survive over the past five decades suggests Indonesia is unlikely to eradicate JI completely," she wrote.
While Indonesian efforts against the terror group haven't been perfect, they have scored many successes. Dozens have been arrested or prosecuted in connection with JI terrorism, including Abu Bakar Bashir, the group's spiritual leader, and Riduan Issamudin, who under the alias of Hambali served as the organization's principal planner and recruiter for nearly a decade.
But many other JI operatives have remained at large, and Indonesian officials in recent days warned that the group was adapting and regenerating its ability to carry out attacks. The latest attacks on Bali demonstrate how accurate those concerns were.
"It's very difficult to stop three guys from strapping on suicide belts, getting some ammonium nitrate, and then walking into a cafe,'' says Zachary Abuza, a political scientist and specialist on Southeast Asian terror groups at Simmons College in Boston.
While most Indonesians find such attacks abhorrent, and don't favor the sort of ultrareligious caliphate that JI wants, in a country of 230 million people, if only 0.5 percent of the population are sympathetic, that amounts to over 1 million potential supporters.
The blasts come nearly three years after bombings on Bali carried out by JI left 202 dead. Since then Indonesian, Singaporean, Malaysian, and Australian police have worked closely to track down dozens of people tied to the bombing.
If JI was responsible for the blast, the Bali attack would be the first time, since Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, that Al Qaeda-linked groups have staged a major second attack in the same location, raising concerns that London, Madrid, and other cities may not be immune.
The attack also confirms that once the taboo of suicide bombings has been broken within a country, follow-up attacks become much more likely. One of the attackers in 2002 was a suicide bomber, though at the time many Indonesians had trouble believing that an Indonesian was capable of such an act, mirroring similar disbelief in Iraq when suicide tactics began there, and suggested his bomb may have simply exploded prematurely.
This time, there seems to be little doubt about the mode of the attack. Indonesian officials say that initial forensic evidence points to suicide bombers in all three locations. Amateur video footage released by police also shows a man walking into one restaurant with an apparent bulge on his back, and then exploding.