JI’s 3-year bomb campaign before Bali

Terror group’s net has spread wide in the region, says an international research group which has revealed its workings.

The devastating Bali blasts followed about 50 other bombings or attempted attacks in Indonesia, planned or carried out by the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah (JI) since April 1999, a report by an international research group said yesterday.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) also said there were ‘deep rifts’ in JI’s top ranks, with more radical elements in Malaysia opposed to spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir, who they found was not militant enough.

The 49-page report by the Brussels-based group lends further credence to a view held by several governments in South-east Asia that the JI was fast emerging as the principal threat to regional security since the Cold War’s end.

The ICG noted: ‘The reach of JI through its networks may be more extensive than previously thought, even though the number of senior JI leaders appears to be very small.’

It said that JI had support in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the southern Philippines, and had reached out to Muslim organisations in Thailand and Myanmar.

In Indonesia, the JI ran dozens of training camps, sometimes with foreign trainers. They were mostly small operations in which around a dozen trainees at a time were taught weapons skills and bomb making, for fighting in Maluku and Poso.

The conflicts in Maluku and Poso were critical to recruitment into JI and development of military skills.

It gave them the experience to carry out bombings in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia from 1999.

The JI was responsible especially for the Christmas Eve bombings of December 2000. More than 30 synchronised bombs were delivered to churches or priests in 11 Indonesian cities.

The ICJ said the Bali investigation showed how JI used family ties, old school connections and links to Darul Islam, which staged an Islamic revolt in Indonesia in the 1950s.

The network appeared to operate through loosely organised cells.

Top strategists were proteges of the late Abdullah Sungkar, who co-founded with Bashir an Islamic boarding school in Central Java.

They are mostly Indonesians living in Malaysia who have fought in Afghanistan.

A second tier was assigned as field coordinators while those who carried out actual attacks were selected only shortly beforehand.

The report said Bashir, now held as a suspect in the Christmas Eve bombings, knew far more than he was willing to divulge about JI operations. But he was unlikely to have masterminded the attacks – and may even have opposed the Bali bombings for ‘tactical reasons’.

It said younger JI hardliners and strategists – revolving around Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali, Imam Samudra and Ali Gufron – reportedly fell out with the 64-year-old cleric whom they thought too ‘accommodating’.

Before Bali, the bombings appeared to be revenge for massacres of Muslims by Christians. But the United States-led war on terror now appeared to be the JI’s main focus, the ICJ said.

‘The targeting in Bali of Westerners rather than Indonesian Christians may be indicative of that shift,’ it said.

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