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October 18, 2002

ed101802: Bali Bombings: Self-Inflicted Wounds?

By

It seems an open-and-shut case to many Americans.

Car bombs go off in an entertainment district, leaving 180 dead and many more missing or wounded. It occurs in Bali, Indonesia, a country that has allowed terror groups-some affiliated with al Qaeda-to take root, that has resisted President Bush's requests to take a strong stand against terrorism and turn over wanted criminals, and that ignored CIA warnings that terrorists in its custody predicted the attack. The guilty party, therefore, must be al Qaeda or associated groups.

But in the region-particularly in Indonesia and Australia-observers are as likely to suspect Indonesian domestic politics and/or the Indonesian military.

Wimar Witolear, a spokesman for former Indonesian President Wahid, wrote in the Oct. 16 Australian Financial Review that this attack resembles a string of recent incidents across Indonesia. The weapons, organization and methods used suggest "military constituencies," he concludes.

Certainly, the Indonesian military is not above suspicion. It generates up to three-fourths of its budget from "side businesses"-illegal logging, drug smuggling, mafia-like protection rackets and other enterprises that could provide motives for the Bali bombing .

Former Australian senior defense analyst Paul Monk notes that, the Udayana Regiment, an Indonesian army unit stationed close to Kuta, Bali, is heavily involved in protection scams and turf struggles over the Bali tourist industry. It also has a reputation for human-rights abuses in East Timor and Papua.

But there are other suspects as well. Laskar Jihad, one of the largest and most militant militias in Indonesia, abruptly disbanded just hours before the Bali blasts. The group broke up reportedly because its leader, Jaffar Umar Thalib, lost the backing of two key constituencies: the Ulamas (Islamic clerics who funneled funds to the group from supporters in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and an Islamic community in New Jersey) and generals and other military hard-liners who provided political cover and perhaps even weapons. Many of these hard-liners are bitter at Australia for its role in helping secure East Timor's independence.

Asked on Radio Australia whether the dissolution of Laskar Jihad came at a convenient moment, Lambang Trijono, who studies Indonesian politics at Gadja Mada University, said, "Yes, that is suspicious, yes very suspicious. It makes sense to make a connection like that, because before they even dissolved ...you know.... yes, very suspicious, actually."

The conduct of the Indonesian government also raises suspicion. The United States and others frequently have warned the Indonesian government that Jemaah Islamiya, Laskar Jihad and other terrorist organizations operating openly in Indonesia had links with international terrorism. Yet, before the Bali bombing, the government steadfastly denied the presence of al Qaeda in Indonesia.

Now the government finds it abundantly believable that al Qaeda operates there. Indonesian defense minister Matori Abdul Djalil described the tragedy as an "eye opener" and unexpectedly blamed al Qaeda operatives for the bombings.

Even more astonishing, on Oct. 15, Indonesia's minister for state security, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, denied Jemaah Islamiyah exists. One day later, he not only admitted its existence, he also announced that it operates in Indonesia, has links to international terrorists, and is lead by Abu Bakar Bashir.

Those who believe the military helped pull off the attack don't have an open-and-shut case either. The links between al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, the military and the Bali bombing are murky at best/ Alexander Downer, Australia's foreign minister, called the notion that the army was involved "silly."

Also, Al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti apprehended in Indonesia and turned over to American forces, purportedly has told U.S. interrogators that a Saudi paid Jemaah Islamiyah to carry out the Bali operation and that the Indonesian army officer who sold the group the explosives used in the attack may not have known how they would be used.

Given Indonesia's corrupt judicial apparatus, we may never know who executed the attack in Bali. President Megawati's leadership style is passive to the brink of comatose, and her vice president, Hamzah Haz, is one of Bashir's most prominent defenders. And although the security minister now acknowledges Jemaah Islamiyah is a terrorist group, he still hasn't seen fit to call for Bashir's arrest.

About the only certainty is that America shouldn't count Indonesia as an ally in the war on terror. We should be more watchful-not more generous-with the Indonesian military. As for President Megawati, she needs to say where she stands before terrorists-including, perhaps, those in uniform-strike Indonesia again.

Dana Robert Dillon is a senior policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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