New Threats Face Westerners in Indonesia

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 10

Indonesian security authorities on May 17 issued a number of alerts about possible bombings mounted by suicide attackers against Westerners in the capital Jakarta. The list of potential targets included shopping malls, office buildings, international schools and embassy buildings as places likely to attract jihadist attention. The police warnings triggered a travel advisory from the Australian government, which underlined how they continued “to receive reports that terrorists in the region were planning attacks against a range of targets” []. A week later National Police chief General Dai Bachtiar indicated that the fugitive Malaysian bombers Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammad Top (implicated in the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombings and the August 2003 JW Marriott hotel bombing) were the likely source of the threat. According to the Indonesian journal Laksamana the alerts were not based on a directly issued warning statement, but on what Bachtiar termed “intelligence analysis which indicates there are preparations to conduct more attacks” [].

The warnings coincide with a number of events that highlight the Indonesian predicament in its struggle against jihadist-inspired terror. On May 16 the court case review of the prosecution of Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for his role in the 2002 Bali blasts that killed 202 people, concluded with the upholding of the two-and-a-half year sentence imposed in early March. The same day the south Jakarta court sentenced to jail three defendants linked with the 2003 bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta. The spotlight on these issues is unwelcome to the authorities, since while it flags up internationally the Indonesian government’s determination to tackle Islamist terrorism, it also provides the domestic stage for expressions of defiance. Following the trial one of the three defendants warned that “there will be revenge”. Meanwhile fears mounted about a revival of sectarian conflict in the Moluccas islands, following the arrest of several men suspected of involvement in an attack that killed five police officers of an elite brigade on Seram island. According to local sources, the attack was mounted by fully trained guerrillas as a deliberate attempt to provoke unrest []. The sensitivity is justified. Between 1999 and 2002 the Moluccas islands witnessed bloody communal fighting between Muslims and Christians that accounted for over 5,000 fatalities. Despite an effective truce being in place since 2002, sporadic violence has continued.

The present alerts are part of an escalating level of concern that dates from September 9 2004, when a suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside the Australian Embassy, killing 10 and wounding 180. Two months later government representatives spoke of “credible new information” pointing to an imminent attack – suspected to be another high profile Western hotel chain target. However, that was interrupted by the tsunami that struck Indonesia and other Indian Ocean rim countries on December 26. Foreign nationals are now being advised to avoid all travel to Aceh and Maluku province, particularly Ambon. U..S missions in Indonesia were closed on May 26 pending further notice. According to the Sydney Morning Herald Australians in Aceh and Maluku have already been instructed to leave the country [].