On November 25 the Indonesian military made public the arrest – which had taken place three weeks earlier – of four men at the Javan town of Bogor. They were identified as major figures in the Indonesian radical group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), and implicated in the bombing of the Australian embassy last year, which killed 9 people along with the suicide bomber. Of the four, the most distinguished was Rois (also known as Iwan Darmawan) who acted as the field coordinator for the bombing and recruited the suicide bomber. Rois is also suspected of involvement in the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed over 200, and the car bomb attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel that killed 12 people. All of the suspects wore explosive belts designed to kill anyone attempting to arrest them, but were unable to detonate the devices.
The caution in disclosing the arrests paid off, since the police subsequently announced the identification of six terrorist nests on a mountain side on the border between west and central Java. Suicide bombers were believed to be recruited and trained in the area.
The announcement of the arrests came in the context of a spate of attacks on Christians in Central Sulawesi Island, the most recent on November 13 with the bombing of a bus in the market town of Poso which killed six. The location of the bombing is significant since it was here that three years ago religious fighting between Christian and Muslim groups claimed almost 1,000 lives. In early 2002, a government-sponsored peace accord was signed by rival party leaders aimed at ending the conflict, but tensions remain. Over the last year the area has seen a steady increase in attacks and bombings, indicating that JI is attempting to re-ignite a sectarian conflict. Unusually for the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Central Sulawesi has a roughly equal Muslim and Christian demography.
The arrests give some room for optimism in the crackdown on JI, given the failure to date to apprehend two Malaysian militants, Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top, who are suspected of masterminded both the Australian embassy and Bali bombings. With a one billion Rupiah (US$100,000) bounty on Azahari’s head, the failure to track him down points to a large, and sophisticated, support base in the country. A further indication of this came from an unlikely source, a survey by the US-funded Freedom Institute. Published in mid November, it threw up some unexpected results, including a 16 percent tally of Indonesians not prepared to condemn terror attacks by JI if they were committed in the cause of ‘fighting the oppression of Muslims’ and with over 50 percent opposing the existence of churches in Muslim-majority areas.
The survey, covering 1,200 Indonesians across the country, cast light on the advance of Islamic fundamentalist sentiments in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation that also counts eight percent of its inhabitants as Christian, two per cent as Hindus and one percent as Buddhists. The majority that oppose sectarian violence will be put to the test by the forthcoming April elections and the results of the trial of JI’s spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Basyir, on charges of terrorism, since the JI will be increasing its efforts at violent disruption.