Militants in region ‘plan to strike back’

TERRORISM: ASIAN CONNECTION

Their first target after lying low for the next six months will be Indonesia, says a Jemaah Islamiah source.

Muslim militants from the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group are digging in their heels and preparing for a long drawn-out terrorist campaign in South-east Asia.

After botching up planned bomb attacks against US embassies and installations in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur last December, a JI source here claimed that they would lie low for the next six months before striking back, with Indonesia as their first target.

“Indonesia is a ‘softer target’ compared to Singapore and Malaysia because it is easier to move the Muslim ground and the security apparatus is weak,” the source told The Straits Times.

He said that it was difficult operating in the neighbouring countries because of the “pervasiveness of their intelligence agencies” which he noted had grown stronger with US backing after the Sept 11 attacks.

The 37-year-old activist who claims to have read philosophy at the State Institute for Islamic Studies in Yogyakarta and uses three aliases, conceded: “That is one reason why we failed in Singapore and Malaysia. We underestimated the ability of their governments to detect our plans.”

JI also failed to read correctly the sentiments of the Muslim communities in the two countries, thinking that they could be swayed easily after Washington declared war on Afghanistan.

He said that the reaction in Indonesia from both moderates and radicals was more critical, making it easier to convince them of the need for a jihad against the US.

He added that was why JI, which wanted to set up a region-wide Islamic republic by uniting Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines, would put Indonesia first now in any attacks against American targets. Previously, the strategy was to focus on other states first.

“There is less of a risk that things will go wrong in Indonesia for us,” he said.

Did that mean Singapore, Malaysia and even the Philippines would no longer be on the radar screen of JI?

He said: “We cannot move against them now because they are too strong for us.

“The whole region, in fact, is not conducive now for any operation to defend our interests. But it will only be a matter of time before we get our chance.”

The source revealed that despite the detention of JI members in Singapore and Malaysia, there were others still operating in these countries who “will be activated when the time is ripe”.

“Don’t think that because our people are arrested there it means that we are finished,” he said.

He refused to give details on what targets JI planned to strike in these countries except to say that they would be that of the “Americans, Jews and their allies”.

He said the broad strategy until August was to lie low and consolidate, something that was very difficult for them to do now given that they were being hunted by security agencies in the region.

JI leaders, he disclosed, were planning to meet later this year in Indonesia to coordinate their strategies.

As for the Indonesian wing of the organisation, they planned to forge even closer links and penetrate other radical Muslim groups in the country to form a broad-based offensive.

But analysts are sceptical that they would be able to get their plans off the ground so easily with greater international scrutiny now on the region where the embryo of an Al-Qaeda network has taken shape.

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