Q&A: What is Jemaah Islamiyah?
Friday's terror attack in Jakarta puts the Al Qaeda-linked Indonesian militant group back in spotlight.
(Page 2 of 2)
The movement's surviving spiritual leader is Abu Bakar Bashir, who remains a free man and says he has never carried out a terrorist attack and that he simply broadcasts a call to jihad – or holy war – to protect Islam from its enemies. Some analysts believe that Mr. Bashir's influence has waned in recent years, as the operatives who gathered around him in Malaysia have been killed or captured. The most prominent of the activists still at large who were suspected of involvement in past JI attacks is Noordin Mohammed Top a Malaysian national who officials in Indonesia and Singapore have accused of playing a key financing and logistical role in major attacks like the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 200 people and the 2003 Marriott attack.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Indonesian officials said in 2006 that Mr. Top considered himself to be the leader of his own militant group and intelligence analysts have said that if JI attacks were to resume, the structure and leadership of the group would probably be radically different than in the past.
What are they fighting for?
What they want is an Islamic state that, eventually, spans the globe. But for the moment they'll settle for a caliphate in the Islamic parts of Southeast Asia – Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Southern Thailand and the Southern Philippines. Accomplishing this goal is far from likely, of course. Sidney Jones, a leading expert on militant groups in Indonesia at the International Crisis Group, has estimated that hard core supporters of JI are probably below 1,000.
Do they have a new strategy?
Successful terrorist groups are always adapting their tactics to circumvent new security measures, and there was evidence of that in today's attack. The men who carried it out checked into the Marriott ahead of time with bombs sufficiently broken down that they were able to evade detection by the lobby metal detectors, then quietly assembled them in the room they took on the 18th floor. In the past, JI attacks have involved suicide bombers, either on foot or in cars ramming front gates or wandering in to lightly guarded cafes.
But as to strategy, there is probably no change. Their rather unlikely hope is that terrorist attacks will so weaken the economy and legitimacy of the Indonesian government that the general public will turn to their rather extreme vision of Islamic government. Indonesia's tourism industry, an economic mainstay, has continued to grow after each JI attack in the past.
What is being done to stop them?
Detachment 88 is the Indonesian government's primary anti-terrorism group, and has been widely praised in recent years for its success against JI.
The US-trained police unit has captured hundreds of JI operatives in the past. When the first major JI attacks began in 2002 and 2003, the Indonesian police had limited ability to track terrorist groups, both in terms of networks of informants inside the right organizations, but also an absence of computer systems or other organized national databases. The detachment also received traditional forensic training from Australia, which lost 88 of its citizens in the 2003 Bali bombing.
Years ago, Indonesian bombing scenes were sloppily secured, if at all, and physical evidence was often damaged or contaminated by onlookers.
Today, reporters in Jakarta said they were frustrated to be kept over a 100 yards away form the hotels shortly after the bombs were placed.