Anti-terror work shouldn’t stop with Bali arrests

The criminal investigation branch of the Indonesian police keeps a pin-up board that’s littered with pictures of terrorist suspects.

That board has become a source of pride for officers investigating the Oct 12 Bali bombings.

In just two months, they have detained 29 people – pictures of whom are prominently displayed on that board – in connection with the blasts that killed nearly 200 people.

Top police officials claim that they are on the verge of closing the case as they move higher up the chart to nab the elusive masterminds.

The police deserve praise for what they have achieved so far. But they should not rest on their laurels.

The scourge of terrorism here is much more widespread and deeply rooted than they assume. The bombings last week in South Sulawesi was a deadly reminder to the police that they still had a lot more to do.

Further north in Manado, investigators uncovered a secret document that allegedly belongs to detained terrorist suspect Imam Samudra and the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group.

That document outlined plans to attack the predominantly Christian city. And there are on average 20 bomb threats in Jakarta every day. The cells that the ringleaders have put in place are still dangerously active.

The arrest of Ali Ghufron alias Mukhlas, the alleged regional leader of JI in Indonesia, dealt a blow to the terror network but it remains a major threat to security in South-east Asia, with several of its leaders still on the run.

Indonesian police suggest that Mukhlas took over as operational commander of JI from the region’s most wanted man, Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali.

But terrorist experts like Dr Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside Al-Qaeda, believe that Mukhlas simply headed JI’s operations in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia while ‘Hambali has moved up the ranks’.

Hambali’s stature has increased both within Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda group, where he is a member of the shura or consultative council and JI. He remains Al-Qaeda’s point man for the region.

For every Mukhlas or Imam Samudra captured, two or three other militant can step up to lead an operation.

Officials from the state intelligence agency BIN believe that there are about 25 extremists in Indonesia today – maybe a notch below Hambali – who can be mobilised to carry out attacks.

Growing confidence is good for a police force once deemed corrupt and ineffective. But if they are to lick terrorism, that CID pin-up board of thwarted terrorist suspects needs grow much bigger.

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