Police foiled JI plot to attack Mega

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MILITANTS behind the deadly bombing of the Australian Embassy here plotted another major attack two months earlier.

Their targets: Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Australia’s Justice Minister Chris Ellison and the region’s top cops.

The occasion: the opening of an anti-terror school in Semarang, Central Java.

National police chief Da’i Bachtiar told reporters yesterday: ‘It’s clear the targets were the president, high-level police and guests.’

He said the attempt was thwarted by the police, but he did not go into details other than suggest that tight security might have been a reason why the plan was dropped.

Regional security sources told The Sunday Times that Indonesian police had gleaned intelligence of a possible attack on the Australian-funded school after interrogating several Jemaah Islamiah (JI) militants caught just weeks before the opening.

The foiled attack was a temporary setback for the JI, whose wide network allows it to pursue alternative options quickly. It was decided that one of its cells should have another go at an Australian target – this time in Jakarta.

To carry out the attack, two of Malaysia’s most wanted terrorists – Dr Azahari Husin and Mohamad Noordin Top – sneaked into Jakarta in July and rented a room near the international airport.

Both men are believed to have used it to assemble parts of the 200kg bomb used in last week’s bombing. General Bachtiar said traces of TNT and sulphur were picked up in the room.

It may also have been used as a rendezvous point to liaise with a five-men team to carry out surveillance of several targets: the diplomatic mission, its ambassador David Ritchie and the Australian International School. Also on the list were the American and British missions, sources said.

Two other cells carried out the bombing that killed nine people and wounded over 180 others. Members of the cells, mostly recruits from Sumatra, were now on the run but still in Indonesia, a source said.

Gen Bachtiar said the Malaysians had been tracked to Jakarta’s outskirts and could be recruiting for another strike. He cited Western embassies, hotels and banks as likely targets.

Some observers are sceptical that another bombing will take place so soon after a major hit. JI’s modus operandi, as seen after the 2002 Bali bombings and the Marriott blast last year, has been to lie low for months before a new attack.

But others in the intelligence community here say that JI may now favour ‘a burst of attacks’ within a short spell. A source said the militants had a second bomb ready for a new strike.

Mr Muchyar Yara, who advises state intelligence chief A.M. Hendropriyono on security issues, noted: ‘The terrorists are picking a range of targets to keep their options open. JI has already replenished its rank and file since Bali. There could be three to five cells in Indonesia today that can be activated for a bombing spree.’

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