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Remembering an early Jemaah Islamiyah attack in Jakarta

A reporter remembers when the last round of terror attacks began in Jakarta. Is another round coming?

By Staff writer / July 17, 2009

Today’s attack on the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia, have put Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — the militant group presumed to be behind the attack and responsible for the murder of over 300 people in the past decade – back in the headlines ... and I got that old familiar pit in the stomach. (A dear friend of mine was staying at the Ritz, though I’ve since learned he’s OK.)

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I was right there on the day the JI began their last campaign.

In August 2000, I was working as a freelance reporter for the Monitor in Jakarta, an opportunity I unfortunately earned when my predecessor, Sander Thoenes, was killed by Indonesian troops withdrawing from East Timor after that country’s independence referendum.

A time of turmoil

It was a time of turmoil and confusion there. Long-time dictator Suharto had been ousted little more than a year before and the presidency of the blind and erratic Abdurahman Wahid was coming apart under pressure from Suharto loyalists, generals angry that the presidency had been placed in civilian hands, and resurgent Islamist groups capitalizing on the increased freedom after Suhatro’s fall to preach, expand, and, in some cases, pursue jihad.

They had sparked a bloody Christian-Muslim religious war in Maluku, the small archipelago once known as the Spice Islands in the West and then of course there were the rumblings of secession emanating from Aceh in Indonesia’s far west and the province now known as Papua, in the far east.

Blast jolted me off the couch

Amid all that, being rousted from my couch on Jakarta’s Irian Street on a sunny day by a window-shattering bomb blast seemed oddly appropriate – if ultimately confusing.

I quickly headed out and followed a plume of smoke over the mango trees a quarter mile to the Philippines Ambassador’s residence, where a group of local Indonesians were pulling a man I later learned was Ambassador Leonides Caday from a burning car, and ignoring an obviously dead man I later learned was a street vendor.

Mr. Caday and his driver survived and, amazingly there was only one other casualty from the bomb that gutted colonial-era mansions on either side of Caday’s house.

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