Indonesian counter-terrorism officials announced a conspicuous success on November 9 with the cornering and subsequent suicide in East Java of Azahari Husin, the top militant and fugitive suspected of involvement in the 2002 and 2005 Bali explosions and the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta. According to The Jakarta Post, they also came within a whisker of arresting his colleague Noordin Top and have spread the net across Java island, motivated by evidence that the two fugitives were about to launch further bombing attacks (www.thejakartapost.com). This followed news that anti-terror police had reported the discovery on November 8 of a recently abandoned jungle training camp on Seram Island in Maluku province, one of several in the region, illustrating how terrorists have been able to maintain their training networks despite a nationwide crackdown.
However, Indonesia’s terror threat profile is more ominously illustrated by an event that occurred a week earlier in central Sulawesi province. On October 29 three Christian schoolgirls were beheaded near the city of Poso, one of the severed heads being subsequently deposited outside a church (www.thejakartapost.com). This was followed on November 8 by attempted killings of two further schoolgirls in Poso, shot from a passing motorbike. The clear incitement to religious conflict occurs in the area of Indonesia which, untypical for this overwhelmingly Muslim nation, has a Muslim/Christian ratio almost evenly balanced. This, and its remoteness from central control, has made it a target for militants who have identified it as a military theater and a potential cornerstone of an Islamic state. The last attempt at provoking a religious conflict occurred over several months in 2001-2002 during which over 1,000 people were killed before a government-brokered truce doused the flames. The violence, however, has continued fitfully—last May over 20 people were killed from bombs placed in a market in the Christian town of Tentena—and many of the Islamic militants drawn from all over Indonesia who participated in the major hostilities are believed to have remained in the area.
This incident comes at a time when Indonesian security authorities are claiming that the Muslim terrorists are finding it harder to recruit from their traditional pool of radical students at Islamic colleges in Central Java—the source of militants such as Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra who were key figures in the October 2002 blasts—and are shifting their interest instead to “criminals and drug addicts” to carry out suicide attacks (www.antara.co.id/en). If this claim has any substance, then the igniting of a sectarian conflict will render this recourse unnecessary. As government delicacy in the handling of the prosecution of alleged Jemaah ideological leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir indicates, Indonesia remains highly volatile to reaction against perceived threats to matters of Islamic identity, and a sectarian conflict is a more effective recruitment vehicle.