More attacks due in Indonesia

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 8

A flurry of interest was expressed at the beginning of the month in the contents of a 7-page letter, apparently from a Sumatra-based operative of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamyiah (JI), detailing the training of militants for suicide bombings in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. If authentic, the letter indicates that which U.S. officials in Jakarta have suspected, that Indonesia is likely to face a new wave of attacks to match the Bali bombings of October 2002. Senior Indonesian counter-terrorism official Ansyaad Mbai, also confirmed the authenticity of the document, saying that it “corroborates some of our findings in the field that there will be another bombing.”

The existence of the letter was reported by the Singapore daily the Straits Times on April 1 and actually dates from last November. The letter was addressed to JI’s top bomb maker the Malaysian national Azahari Husin. It detailed how people were being trained to make bombs in the Sumatran towns of Lampung, Bengkulu, Padang, and Palembang, that 12 militants were ready to be martyrs and that plans for a Bali-style attack were underway [].

The delay in the disclosure of the letter may have something to do with the conclusion of the trial of the spiritual leader of JI Abu Bakar Baasyir, following which the defence attorneys are attempting to appeal against the 30-month prison sentence, and is designed to challenge public opinion which is broadly in favor of the alleged JI leader, if not for acts of terrorism then at least for the symbol he represents of opposition to the United States.

The letter is written in pidgin Arabic, and underlines how “the condition in Jakarta is getting extra tight, especially in the U.S. Embassy and its allies’ offices.” It recommends that the recipients “consider attacking places which are more open, like the Marriott Hotel, but to try to avoid Muslim victims.” No convincing explanation was given as to why such a missive would be drafted in ‘pidgin Arabic’, except a general observation that such language “is used by religious clerics in boarding schools here.” Another possible explanation was that it was a crude attempt to increase security. However, the use of a written letter itself at least provides a further indication that the JI is feeling itself under increasing pressure. The text acknowledges the dangers of their communications being electronically monitored. But there may be small satisfaction from this evidence, since while the JI is in disarray following the collapse of its central command structure, hierarchical structures are not vital to the function of what, throughout the jihadist militant movement in Indonesia and abroad, are becoming autonomous individual cells, whose movements and intentions become all the more difficult to map.