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?
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In the coming days, the police didn’t seem to have any meaningful leads. Caday told reporters he thought the attack might have been a personal vendetta of some kind. Indonesia’s foreign minister said it was probably soldiers aligned with Suharto seeking to undermine Wahid’s government. The consensus of the reporting contingent in Jakarta, and among Filipino officials, was that it had something to do with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a separatist group in the southern Philippines.Skip to next paragraph
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Indonesian terrorists? No way!
But a home-grown Indonesian Islamist terror network? It wasn’t in the realm of possibility. Speculation that it might have been a suicide bomber? “You’re crazy, no Indonesian would ever do such a thing.”
Most folks soon forgot about the incident – though of course it came back to mind the next Christmas Eve, when near-simultaneous attacks were carried out on over a dozen churches in eight different Indonesian cities.
It took years for Indonesian and foreign investigators, academics, and journalists to begin to get a handle on what was going on – that a group called Jemaah Islamiyah, with seasoned operatives who had fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, leaders who had reached out to Al Qaeda while there, and a firebrand preacher newly home from an exile imposed on him by Suhatro, were setting up shop. And yes, they had men willing to kill themselves for the cause.
I thought of all this after today’s twin attacks on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta – which broke a four year streak without an attack.
That streak was largely down to the lessons Indonesia and its neighbors had learned, the improvement of their intelligence and investigatory capacities, public trials of JI militants, and systematic efforts to prevent them from rebuilding their network.
Some of the analyst’s quoted in our story on the Jakarta attacks today speculate that a splinter group of JI veterans and new recruits may be behind this latest attack, and pointed out that rather than ramming a suicide car bomb at a lightly guarded target, as the group had done in the past, they had apparently infiltrated the hotel as guests in the days before the attack, gathered intelligence, and picked a perfect time to strike – during a breakfast meeting of foreign and local business leaders and officials. The death toll may have been paltry by JI’s standards – 9 compared to the 202 killed in the groups 2003 attack on the tourist island of Bali – but the manner of the attack was indeed something different.
Is this a new type of JI, one that will differ significantly in tactics? Was today’s attack a one-off event, as we all hope? I don’t know. But I’m certain that if this is an evolving problem, it won’t take the Indonesians and everybody else anywhere near as long to catch on.