Indonesia’s anti-terrorism strategy questioned

JAKARTA — Twin bomb attacks that hit luxury hotels in Indonesia’s capital last week have shattered years of calm won through an innovative carrot-and-stick approach to fighting terror.

The suicide bombings at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, the suspected work of a radical splinter faction of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant network, are the first of their kind since 2005.

Analysts say Indonesia has made valuable headway with a divide-and-rule strategy that has hobbled JI and sown division in its ranks, but that creeping complacency has allowed the radical fringe to fester.

“I think worldwide counter-terrorism has been looking at Indonesia as a successful model until now,” Indonesia-based analyst Noor Huda Ismail told AFP.

“I think in terms of understanding the network we’ve been doing great. Look at Guantanamo, it was a disaster,” he said of the confrontational “War on Terror” approach taken by the United States.

With close Western backing since 2002 bombings that killed more than 200 mostly foreign holidaymakers on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia has pursued a dual strategy of arresting JI members plotting attacks, while not disturbing and even rewarding radicals that swear off violence.

“As long as an individual member of JI doesn’t do any crime they won’t be arrested,” Ismail said. “But once they break the law in any way the Indonesian government will arrest them.”

The analyst said that at least 400 militants have been captured by Indonesian authorities since 2002 and a long list of plots have been foiled.

At the same time, authorities have fostered disquiet within JI over spectacular attacks that kill large numbers of civilians — a strategy based on changing the tactics of radicals, not their ideology, Ismail said.

This has meant discreetly monitoring, but not shutting down, radical boarding schools that have traditionally supplied willing recruits for suicide attacks. To the unease of many, it has also seen a decision not to censor a network of radical publishing houses, or the utterances of high-profile radicals including the three bombers executed last year over the 2002 Bali attack.

International indignation was also sparked in 2004 when Ali Imron, a brother of two of the Bali bombers who is serving a life sentence for his role, was seen sipping coffee with a senior policeman at a Jakarta cafe.

The blame for Friday’s attacks has been pointed at a splinter group led by fugitive Malaysian radical Noordin Mohammed Top, the reputed mastermind of a string of bloody bombings in Indonesia since 2003.

Noordin’s approach has alienated the mainstream JI leadership to the extent that he “is no longer acting in the name of JI”, International Crisis Group (ICG) analyst Sidney Jones said.

The latest attacks revealed a “complacency that terrorism is no longer a problem” which had helped Noordin and his network consolidate and thrive after it was shunned by the main JI group.

Taufik Andrie, from the Institute for International Peacebuilding in Jakarta, said Indonesian authorities are on the right path but have lost sight of the immediate danger posed by Noordin’s faction.

“They have to catch Noordin and hardline JI cells first. After that they have to guide along moderate JI so they can influence JI hardliners and new recruits so that they don’t follow Noordin-style jihad,” he said.

Slack enforcement in Indonesia’s prison system, which analysts argue has become a breeding ground for radicals, is also seen as a factor in the re-emergence of terrorism on the streets of Jakarta.

Ismail is the co-author of an Australian Strategic Policy Institute paper released a day before the bombings that warned a “new generation” of fringe radicals alienated from the JI mainstream were emerging hardened from prisons.

Monday, July 20, 2009 10:19 am  By Aubrey Belford, AFP

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