NOTE: The following is a viewpoint article on Indonesia and Jemaah Islamiah from ABC Radio Australia based on an interview with Sidney Jones, the South East Asia project director of the International Crisis Group.
The second anniversary of the Bali bombings, which killed more than 202 people, was marked recently with memorial services in Bali.
While many of the perpetrators are in prison, fears have been raised their sentences are in doubt after their original terrorism convictions were overturned by Indonesia’s constitutional court.
Meanwhile some operatives believed to be involved in the attack are still free – while others linked to subsequent attacks are also on the run.
As someone who analyses sources of conflict and violence in South East Asia, Sidney Jones is deeply familiar with Jemmah Islamiah – the regional terror group blamed for a string of attacks including the October 2002 Bali bombings.
Her team has produced a series of reports on the shadowy group and its operations in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Ms Jones says although JI has been seriously destabilised since the Bali attacks, it still poses a significant threat.
“I think since the Bali bombs the police – both the Australian police and the Indonesian police – have done a superb job in rounding up the network,” she says.
“The problem is that the organisation was always much bigger than people had originally thought, and there’s still some key people who haven’t been arrested and this makes for problems.”
Questions of leadership
Sidney Jones believes Jemaah Islamiah may not be working under a central command structure, which she says has an effect on its tactics and potential to carry out further attacks.
“I think what it may mean is that different parts of JI may be able to take some initiatives on their own to plan and mount attacks,” she says.
“It’s clear that the August 2003 Marriott Hotel bomb, for example, was planned and executed by Noordin Mohammad Top and Azahari bin Husin, the two men that are being sought in connection with the [September 2004 bombing at Australia’s embassy in Jakarta].
“But at the last minute it seems to have been endorsed by what we think was then the JI leadership,” she says.
“The problem is we don’t really know who the JI leadership is at the moment, but it’s pretty clear that the Australian embassy bombing also may have been planned and executed without endorsement or approval from the JI leadership.”
The Hambali faction
Ms Jones says the arrests of the two senior JI members would deal a blow to the “Hambali faction” of the group.
Hambali is believed to be the operations manager of JI and has been named as a key suspect in a string of attacks across South East Asia.
He was arrested in Thailand in August 2003 and is being held at an undisclosed location by the US.
“[The arrests of Noordin Mohammad Top and Azahari bin Husin] would be another blow to the Hambali faction of Jemaah Islamiah, and the Hambali faction is the one that’s been responsible for all the most lethal bombing attacks,” Ms Jones says.
“So if they got these two there would be maybe four or five other top leaders who are still at large,” she says.
“But even then I think it’s important to remember that there are these other groups like the one in west Java that have the capacity and the expertise and the determination to do the same kind of thing the Hambali group has been doing.”
Indonesians in denial
For some time now many people in Indonesia have been saying that JI doesn’t exist or they’re not willing to admit it.
Ms Jones says there are a number of reasons why people in Indonesia are refusing to admit the group’s existence.
“One reason is that the name Jemaah Islamiah, which means Islamic community, is so generic that many Indonesians refuse to believe that it could apply to a terrorist organization,” she says.
“Another factor is that even people who know JI exist don’t want to admit it publicly for fear that somehow to acknowledge its existence might be to taint Indonesian Islamic organisations more generally,” she says.
“I think this is a fear that the new president, Yudhoyono, could try to address.”
Testing times for Yudhoyono
When it comes to Indonesia’s president-elect, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Ms Jones says he has some serious tests ahead.
“I think he’ll do a major job in at least improving intelligence coordination and improving inter-agency coordination,” Ms Jones says.
“The real test though is going to be whether he takes terrorism beyond security and beyond law enforcement and looks at some of the social and political underpinnings of it – which would mean that he would take a look at recruitment procedures, he’d take a look at schools where there’s a disproportionate number of bombers being produced and so on,” she says.
A new approach needed
Ms Jones says she thinks Mr Yudhoyono will do well on the security side, but has doubts about how he will fare on these broader issues.
“The most important thing that has to happen now is for somebody or some neutral group to do in-depth interviewing of the people who are already in custody for involvement in Jemaah Islamiah and like-minded groups and actually assess what it was that drew them to these organisations, who recruited them, what the process was and so on,” she says.
“Once we have that information then it would be possible to craft a number of different policies – in some ways that’s the first step even before we talk about legal measures necessary.
“I think the other thing is to then do particular training of prosecutors even more than lawyers and judges and educate them about how much leeway they actually have in demanding additional evidence, if the evidence they have they regard as insufficient, and so on.
“It’s a question of taking the laws that exist and making sure that the prosecution makes the absolute maximum use out of them.”