Saturday, September 11, 2004

Indonesian Leaders Still in Denial After Embassy Blast

by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent

MAKASSAR, Indonesia, Sept. 11, 2004 -– Indonesia's number one man on terrorism, police chief Da'i Bachtiar, was having a meeting with a parliamentary commission Thursday morning in Jakarta, briefing them about his attempt to arrest master bombers Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammad Top, when an aide approached him and whispered something into his ear.

Bachtiar frowned and asked the commission to adjourn the hearing, saying that a bomb had just exploded some minutes earlier outside the Australian embassy, "My men will take care, but it just shows us how dangerous [it is] to have people like them on the run."

Jakarta television immediately showed pictures of the bombing, mostly dramatic, but some were gruesome: a bleeding policeman trying to get out of a watercoway, two burned motorcyclists, bodies outside the embassy, dozens of victims lying in hospitals, political comments and VIPs visiting the scene.

Azahari and Mohammad Top are two Malaysian citizens allegedly involved in producing the deadly bombs that were detonated in Bali in October 2002 and Jakarta's J.W. Marriot Hotel in August 2003. The Bali bomb killed 202 people, mostly Australian tourists, while the Marriot bomb left 12 people dead.

Da'i Bachtiar's men have arrested most of the bombers. Indonesian judges have also sentenced three of them to death. But Azahari and Top, who allegedly belong to a shadowy network called the Jemaah Islamiyah, have twice narrowly managed to escape arrest by police.

They have been on the run since the Bali bombing but still managed to shape the direction of the network to bomb J.W. Marriot Hotel and, if Bachtiar's speculation is proven, also the Australian embassy.

"We could see similarities between this bombing and the car bombs that exploded in Bali and the Marriot. It is still too early to prove that the Jemaah Islamiyah is behind this bombing although there is possibly a suicide bomber here like the others," said Bachtiar.

Bachtiar might say so, but it is not easy to convince most Indonesians, especially certain Muslim leaders, to believe that the Jemaah Islamiyah did bomb Bali, the Marriot, and that they wwere responsible for some other, smaller explosions over the last three years in Indonesia, as well as the one on Thursday.

The Australian embassy bomb again brought to the surface conspiracy theories that appeared in the previous bombings here in the world's largest Muslim country.

Ismail Yusanto, the spokesman for Hisbut Tahrir, a Muslim group which advocates the orthodox shariah, said in a television talk show Thursday evening, "There is a possibility of a foreign intervention in this bombing. The police should not only arrest and torture Muslim activists, like in the case of Abu Fida, but also seek the possibilities of foreign intelligence services."

Yusanto was referring to a Muslim cleric who last month allegedly helped Azahari and Top to hide in Surabaya, Indonesia's second city. The police denied any torture, but admitted they detained Abu Fida for several days.

Much speculation arose two years ago that the Bali bombing was organized by either the operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency or the Israeli Mossad. Some media also headlined comments from so-called "intelligence analysts" like Z.A. Maulani, A.C. Manullang or Suripto, all of whom who used to work as Indonesian secret agents.

Maulani, who used to head Indonesia's National Intelligence Agency, advocated a theory that the Bali bomb was a "micro nuclear bomb" dropped from the air and of a type owned only by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel, implying that the bombing was not organized by Indonesians but "foreign secret agents."

These people again appeared in Indonesian media after the bombing outside the Australian embassy. Suripto appeared on a station called ANTV and theorized that the Bali bombing was indeed conducted by Indonesians, but questioned whether the Indonesian police have caught the "mastermind."

"In the world of intelligence, we call them dump agents. They are used to do an operation, but do not know the big picture," said Suripto.

When al Qaeda men hijacked passenger planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, some Indonesian newspapers, including mainstream dailies such as Koran Tempo and Jawa Pos, headlined a story about 4,000 Jewish workers being absent from work on Sept. 11, 2001, saying that their alleged absence was due to a signal from the Mossad that the buildings were about to be bombed.

Abdullah Gymnastiar, Indonesia's most popular televangelist, also appeared on television here Thursday afternoon, sobbing and saying, "Allah must be upset with us" because there were so much "maksiat" activities in Indonesia.

"Maksiat" is an Arabic word which literally means "infidelity" or "adultery." Gymnastiar is a strong anti-pornography advocate on Indonesian movies. Just last month he led a campaign to ban a teenage movie with kissing scenes.

The Jemaah Islamiyah was established by two Indonesian clerics, Abdullah Sungkar and Abubakar Ba'asyir, who were in self-exile in Malaysia in the early 1980s. Sungkar died in 1999 but Ba'asyir, whom the Indonesian police claimed to be its current leader, is now under detention in Jakarta. Ba'asyir denied his involvement in any of the bombings. He also said that the Bali bombing was conducted by foreign agents to destabilize Indonesia.

Both President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her opponent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will compete in the presidential election on Sept. 20, condemned the bombing and urged the police to arrest the terrorists. But both refrained from mentioning the phrase "Jemaah Islamiyah."

Indonesian also has not banned the Jemaah Islamiyah. Some politicians and government officials even questioned whether such a group does exist in Indonesia despite the fact that it was already blacklisted by the United Nations.

American Reporter Correspondent Andreas Harsono, currently working on a book on Indonesia, has reported on Indonesian affairs for AR since 1995. He won a Nieman International Fellowship in 1999-2000.

Copyright 2005 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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