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Bali bombings: 10 years later, progress and some bumps ahead

After the 2002 Bali bombing, Indonesia cracked down on terror. But analysts warn lack of understanding about smaller cells could hamper efforts.

By Correspondent / October 12, 2012

People light candles at a beach during a memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorists attacks, in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, Oct. 12. A decade after twin bombs killed scores of tourists partying at two beachfront nightclubs on Indonesia's resort island of Bali, survivors and victims' families on Friday braved a fresh terrorism threat to remember those lost to the tragedy.

Firdia Lisnawati/AP

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JAKARTA, Indonesia

A decade after bombs ripped apart two nightclubs in Bali, killing 202 people including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians and seven Americans, the terrorist organization responsible for those blasts looks weak and fractured. Intelligence warnings that another attack might take place during anniversary commemorations led police to step up security, but by Friday morning they were calling the threat, “not significant.” 

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To honor the victims of the 2002 bombings, hundreds of people, including Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, turned out for an early-morning ceremony. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa gave a speech calling the attack, “nothing less than an assault on humanity,” and said Indonesia remained committed to strengthening “the voice of moderation … and fighting extremism and intolerance in all its forms.”

After the Bali bombing, the US classified Indonesia as a frontline country in the global war on terror and provided funds and training to an elite counter-terrorism squad, Detachment 88, set up in the wake of those blasts.

The results exceeded many expectations: The last major attack against foreigners was in 2009, and Jemaah Islamiyah, Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asian offshoot responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing, has been crippled by a police crackdown and rifts within the organization. And all of the major suspects who participated in the 2002 Bali attack have been killed or imprisoned. In deed, for the past 15 years, since strongman President Suharto stepped down, Indonesia has been a model of stability.

For all its efforts Indonesia has received widespread praise. But analysts say that smaller cells have cropped up in recent years still pose threats, and a lack of understanding about those groups has prevented better counter-terrorism efforts.

“The level of threat has diminished, but it remains persistent,” says Greg Barton, a political scientist who has studied global terrorism at Australia’s Monash University.

Hardline group recruitment

Analysts say disaffected youth are increasingly branching off and starting their own small cells that operate independent of Jemaah Islamiyah or Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid, a hardline group set up in 2008 by JI spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for helping support a paramilitant training camp discovered in  2010 in Aceh, in northern Sumatra.

“They find old groups like the JI and JAT not radical enough,” says Jim Della-Giacoma, the Southeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that monitors radical activity in Indonesia.

Bashir created JAT, which is classified by the United States as a terrorist organization, after breaking away from JI, which more militant groups felt had abandoned jihad. Now, even that group carries out mostly above-ground activities, exerting its influence through schools and prayer groups.

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