Western envoys in Indonesia : JI’s next target?

Report says it is switching from bombings to assassination campaigns.

Operatives from the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network have reportedly entered Indonesia in recent weeks to mount an assassination campaign against Western ambassadors in the country.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said that the Al-Qaeda-linked group was also targeting foreign businessmen and Indonesian public figures as it switched tactics from bombings to assassinations.

Indonesian officials, responding to the report, said there had been speculation that militants could use snipers or even resort to shooting at close range at mainly Western targets.

They said that over the past six months, the group had been considering ‘a range of options’ given that it was getting lessroom to manoeuvre in Indonesia and the region following a police crackdown and surveillance of its activities.

But contrary to the WSJ report, these officials said that bombing was still high on JI’s agenda. Indeed, it still had in its possession some 200kg of explosives stashed in undisclosed locations.

A senior Indonesian police official, who investigated the Bali and Marriott bombings, told The Straits Times: ‘They will use whatever means possible… But the aim will always be to kill as many people as possible and that you can only do with suicide bombings.’

That is why ‘soft targets’ like hotels, shopping malls and nightspots, continued to be top on their list, he said.

Assassination is an option, but it is not new to the terror network.

In mid-2001, JI tried to kill the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia. And it even had plans to assassinate Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri who was then vice-president, according to court testimony from militant Faiz Abu Bakar Bafana in Singapore.

The WSJ said that British and Australian intelligence organisations had ‘specific and credible’ information – much of it from communications intercepts – that several JI militants trained to carry out assassinations had entered Indonesia in recent weeks.

The group arrived through East Kalimantan province from Mindanao in the Southern Philippines.

This has been the traditional route for JI members entering Indonesia. Many of them use East Kalimantan as a transit base before heading off to Sulawesi, Sumatra or Java.

The paper said that there were concerns about potential attacks on Indonesian politicians and foreign executives in the mining and energy industries.

But US, British and Australian ambassadors and senior officials from those embassies were the prime targets. Embassies had already recommended that citizens avoid non-essential travel to Indonesia because of terrorism fears.

Despite the capture of several of its members, including ringleader Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali, JI continues to be a major security threat even as a splintered outfit.

Several key individuals, who were intricately involved in the Bali and Marriott bombings, are still at large. They include a combat veteran of the Afghanistan war, Zulkarnaen, bomb-maker Azahari Hussein, and his protege Dulmatin.

A senior Indonesian counter-terrorism official noted: ‘It could be suicide bombings or assassinations. They could use whatever modus operandi.

‘The threat of a major terrorist attack from JI and associated militant groups will always be there. The difficulty for us is determining when and where the next attack will take place.’

What, when, where next?

‘It could be suicide bombings or assassinations. They could use whatever modus operandi… The difficulty for us is determining when and where the next attack will take place.’
– A senior Indonesian counter-terrorism official

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