JI cells still as deadly’

New splinter groups continue to recruit fanatics.

THEY are down but not out.

Following the region-wide crackdown on the Jemaah Islamiah three years ago, the network today is in disarray with the collapse of its centralised command structure.

But splinter individual cells or Fiahs, operating now with little coordination, pose an even more potent security threat. A much more amorphous outfit, JI is also linking up with a plethora of other radical Muslim groups in Indonesia for terrorist operations.

Mr Martin Hughes of the Control Risks Group, a global security consultancy, explained: ‘JI is like a headless monster now. But this makes it more dangerous because it can lash out at any time without warning or coordination.

‘A command hierarchy does not appear to be as critical as fanatical ideology. A common jihadist mindset is forging bonds between JI and several small Islamic groups in the country.’

JI used to be controlled by a Syurah or regional advisory council. Operations were divided according to loose, geographically-based formations called Mantiqis which covered South-east Asia and Australia.

They were in turn sub-divided into other operational elements such as the Wakalahs and Fiahs.

Counter-terrorism officials in Indonesia said that with the recruitment of a newer generation of militants trained in the art of bomb-making, cells were sprouting up across the sprawling archipelago.

The main bases, however, were in West Java, Sumatra and eastern Indonesia, especially in Sulawesi.

Mr Ansyaad Mbai, who heads the counter-terrorism desk at Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry for Politics and Security, noted: ‘These are areas where radical Islamic elements have historically had a strong foothold. They offer a base for recruitment for JI’s future operations.’

Indeed, there is growing evidence that the network is partnering other Muslim militant cells.

In the attack on the Australian Embassy last September, for example, JI planned the bombing but recruited disparate elements from the Darul Islam, which in the 1950s revolted against the central government for the introduction of syariah law in Indonesia.

Police sources disclosed that JI militants were recruiting members from at least three radical outfits for possible attacks in the capital: Batalion Abu Bakar (BAB), with most of its members in Jakarta’s outskirts; the West Java-based Korps Cakrabuana; and the Angkatan Muda Islam Nusantara or Kompi F, a breakaway faction from BAB.

These groups provided ‘a reservoir of talent’ for JI to recruit as suicide bombers.

Training in bomb-making was now carried out in ‘one-to-one sessions’, given fears that group sessions would attract attention from security forces, according to a source close to JI.

He also said that there was also intense planning now on the details of a bombing plot, such as identifying suicide bombers, the likely targets and methods of strike.

‘After the Marriott bombing in August 2003, JI members were frustrated that the attack killed many Indonesians. The thinking now is that a car bomb might not be so effective, given that many embassies, hotels and places of entertainment are so tightly guarded. It might be more effective to use a smaller bomb.’

He said the West Java cells in Bogor and Banten appeared keener on ‘jacket bombs’ because it could have maximum impact in a closed environment with much lower costs.

Clearly, each of these Fiahs, individually or in clusters, appears to have drawn up their own plans and timeframe for attacks.

A seasoned Jakarta-based diplomat said that the period – September to November this year as indicated in the November letter by the Sumatran cells to Malaysian bomb-maker Azahari Bin Husin – was a window of opportunity for attacks.

‘The time cycle for each attack is about 12 months,’ he said. The last major attack, the Australian Embassy bombing, took place last September.

Surveillance had been carried out on two major hotels in Jakarta, according to a source close to the network.

He said that one of the hotels was discounted as a target because it was frequented by too many Indonesians.

The other remained a plausible target because it had many foreigners.

The source also said that while the Sumatran JI cells had drawn up strike plans, there was no guarantee that the network’s top bomb-maker Azahari bin Husin would use them.

He and another Malaysian fugitive, Mohd Noordin Top, appeared to favour other cells in Banten, West Java.

While jailed Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was still seen as JI’s spiritual leader, the two Malaysians are increasingly directing operations.

As demonstrated in the letter to Azahari last November, the Fiahs are looking to him for guidance.

Mr Ansyaad noted: ‘Ideologically, these cells are primed for an attack. But they are in disarray and looking for operational leadership.

‘Azahari and Noordin Top might have filled that vacuum by dealing in an ad-hoc manner with individual cells.’

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