October 18, 2002 | Commentary on Asia
ed101802: Bali Bombings: Self-Inflicted Wounds?
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
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
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
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
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.