US closes diplomatic offices in Indonesia

Indefinite shutdowns follow reports of possible strikes by terrorists.

THE United States shut down all its diplomatic missions across Indonesia yesterday amid heightened fears of a terrorist attack.

The American Embassy in the Jakarta and consular offices in Surabaya and Bali were closed following reports of possible strikes by extremists.

‘The terrorist threat in Indonesia remains high,’ the embassy said on its website posting. ‘Attacks could occur at any time and could be directed against any location, including those frequented by foreigners, and identifiably American and other Western facilities or businesses in Indonesia.’

The move follows a spate of alerts in recent months by other foreign missions.

Security and intelligence operations were stepped up in the country during the Easter holiday, given concerns that there would be a bombing raid by the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network.

Last week, Australia urged its citizens to avoid travelling to Indonesia because of a warning by Jakarta police of possible suicide bombings, particularly at embassies, international schools, office buildings and shopping malls.

Indeed, over the weekend, Indonesian police alerted several major hotels in the capital of the possibility of another terrorist attack.

A senior official from the police counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, said: ‘We are taking these precautions because of credible information that extremists are planning a suicide bombing.’

The Straits Times reported on April 1 that planning was well under way for a terrorist attack in the country that could be as devastating as the 2002 Bali bombings.

A letter obtained from a Sumatra-based operative tells of 12 militants being trained for suicide bombings. The document was addressed to the network’s top bomb-maker Azahari Bin Husin, a Malaysian, who is on the run after plotting three of Indonesia’s worst terrorist strikes.

Subsequent information from another note obtained by the paper indicated that JI was plotting simultaneous attacks on two targets in Jakarta – the stock exchange building and Menara Peninsula, a member of the Singapore-based YTC Hotels.

Both are on the police watch list, together with a string of possible targets that include oil refineries in Kalimantan with Western links.

The closure of the diplomatic missions came even as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met his US counterpart George W. Bush in Washington for talks that included efforts to tackle terrorism.

There was no public comment by the Indonesian leadership on the latest move by Washington.

But a senior police investigator in Jakarta told The Straits Times: ‘It is America’s right to do whatever it wants. We support them in this instance because they are taking preemptive steps that could save lives.’

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