Attack has imprint of JI’s Azahari
Police believe the Malaysian bomb-maker planned the attack and his accomplice Dulmatin had a key role in executing it.
Yesterday’s powerful car bomb explosion outside the Australian embassy here bore all the hallmarks of a terrorist operation carried out by the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network.
Hours after the explosion, Indonesia’s police chief Dai Bachtiar pointed the finger at JI and its top bombmaker, Malaysian Azahari Husin, who is being hunted over the 2002 Bali bombings and last year’s attack on Jakarta’s Marriott Hotel.
‘Our suspicion is that it was by the same group, especially Azahari,’ he told reporters at the blast site. ‘This is what we can conclude from the modus operandi and our investigation.’
The Straits Times understands that while Azahari – an engineer by training and on Kuala Lumpur’s top 10 most wanted persons list – is the main suspect, his right hand man Dulmatin alias Noval could have played a key role in executing the attack.
Intelligence sources said that the 39-year-old Dulmatin, who attended bomb-making classes under Azahari, had moved up the ranks in the JI leadership.
He is believed to have trained several of the new generation of JI cadres and drew on several of them from Lampung, Bangka and Belitung in South Sumatra for the latest bombing.
A JI-linked source in Sumatra revealed that a team of five members was deployed to Jakarta two months ago to carry out ‘periodic surveillance’ on the Australian Embassy and its ambassador David Ritchie.
Also on the list were international schools in Jakarta.
He said that three teams were deployed for the whole operation but could not provide more specific details.
The attack was initially scheduled for March this year, a month before the parliamentary election. It was delayed, however, because of poor logistics and increasing police and intelligence scrutiny.
Azahari and another Malaysian, Noordin Mohd Top, came close to being caught by local security authorities on at least two occasions.
But the amorphous nature of the outfit – with terrorist cells spread out throughout the vast archipelago, especially in Sumatra, Sulawesi and Kalimantan – has allowed JI to carry out its operations in the country.
Also in the terrorist network was a handful of Singaporean Muslim militants on the wanted list of the Internal Security Department (ISD). They had crossed borders into Indonesia after the ISD swoop on terrorists in Singapore in 2001.
Crippled by waves of arrests in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, JI has sought to build up its network again by recruiting new members to support a core group of hardliners led by Azahari and Afghan war veteran and Islamic cleric Zulkarnaen.
It also retained the means to carry out a major terrorist strike. Before yesterday’s bombing, senior police sources said that JI still had a few hundred kilogrammes of explosives in its possession.
Some might argue that the attack outside the Australian Embassy – which intelligence sources said came from about a 300kg bomb – was a botched-up operation given that it did not achieve the desired effect of a higher death toll.
Officials estimate that nine people were killed and more than 180 injured. Compare this to the Bali bombings, for example, in which 202 died in the bloody nightclub massacre on the tourist resort.
But the latest bombing might be even more significant. It took place in the heart of Jakarta’s central business district, leaving open the possibility of further terrorist strikes.
An Indonesian intelligence official noted: ‘Maybe only a small number have died. But the message of the terrorists is a very potent one. They are telling us they can carry out bombings anywhere they wish.’
But why target the Australians?
The source connected to JI said: ‘This is a second warning to them. The first was Bali. Australia is a lackey of the Americans. The Australians have been trying to suppress Islam in Indonesia by forcing the Indonesian government to persecute Muslims.’
Australia, a key US ally, has been at the forefront in the fight against terrorism in Indonesia. The Australian Federal Police has been working closely with their Indonesian counterparts.
Canberra, the source noted, was also the most vocal in demanding the death sentence for the Bali bombers.
The timing for the attack, just 11 days before a crucial presidential election runoff between incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri and Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has prompted some to argue that there might be political motivations behind the bombing.
Here, JI is just a pawn in a larger conspiracy to effect electoral outcome.
There is speculation that rogue military elements desperate to see a former general take up the reigns of power might have engineered the attack.
The military link might be fiction. Conspiracy theorists lack evidence to back the argument.
But in any case, Mr Bambang seems likely to benefit most from the blast as public sentiment is crying out for a return to stability, which some say will only come with a stongman at the helm. Terrorists have already struck three times in the country under the incumbent President’s watch.
There is little doubt, however, that JI’s fingerprints are all over the Australian embassy blast, and that there still are pervasive terrorist nests in the country.
Jakarta needs to acknowledge this.
The night before the explosion, Indonesia’s security czar Hari Sabarno declared brazenly after a meeting with top intelligence and military officials that a US travel advisory warning Americans not to visit the country was ‘exaggerated’.
In the alert on Tuesday, the State Department identified western hotels as potential targets of terrorist attacks in Indonesia ahead of the third anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, mayhem.
Mr Sabarno could not resist taking a potshot at the Americans. ‘Is it true that there is a terrorist threat ahead of the election? Let’s see whether this is true what the US had been worrying about.’
Tragically, Washington proved to be right in this case.