JI bomber behind blasts in Sulawesi

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INDONESIA suffered its deadliest terrorist strike since Bali when two bombs exploded in a crowded market in Central Sulawesi yesterday, killing at least 20 people and wounding 60.

Indonesian security officials immediately fingered the top bomb-maker of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), Azahari bin Husin, as the man responsible for the blasts.

Occurring within minutes of each other, the explosions ripped through the centre of the predominantly Christian town of Tentena, in a region where sectarian conflict has been rife in recent years.

Mr Ansyaad Mbai, head of the counter-terrorism unit in the security ministry here, told The Sunday Times: ‘We believe that this could be the work of Azahari and his JI proteges. Their prints are all over in the attack aimed at destabilising the area.

‘We know that JI has been courting several Muslim radical groups in Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia to carry out bombings in the country over the next few months.’

The strike comes just two days after the United States closed all its diplomatic missions indefinitely across the sprawling archipelago amid heightened fears of a terrorist attack.

Security concerns thus far have focused on a possible attempt by JI to strike in the capital against Western embassies, major hotels and entertainment spots.

But there have also been fears that JI and extremist groups linked to it could hit targets in outlying provinces.

National police chief Da’i Bachtiar said last week that Azahari, who had plotted three of the worst terrorist attacks in Indonesia since 2002, was suspected to be behind a series of bomb threats to foreign oil companies in Kalimantan.

Observers believe that JI continued to have the infrastructure to carry out terrorists attacks in Indonesia. Following a massive police crackdown in Java after the Bali bombings, key operatives have sought refuge in the islands of Sumatra and eastern Indonesia, especially Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

Sulawesi has traditionally been a recruiting base for the extremists. Tentena is about 60km from strife-torn Poso in Central Sulawesi, where fighting between Muslims and Christians have killed at least 1,000 people since 2000.

Yesterday’s attack left at least 20 dead and 60 seriously wounded.

Witnesses said there was a small explosion, followed about 15 minutes later by a much larger one. The bigger blast flattened the busy market which was near a police station. Among the dead were a Christian clergyman and a three-year-old boy.

Police later discovered outside a nearby church a homemade bomb – its make almost similar to the 60 they found in an abandoned house in Poso in January this year.

Months later, security forces arrested three Muslim extremists who confessed to planning a jihad or holy war in the region.

Mr Ansyaad noted: ‘All roads are leading to JI and Azahari.’

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