03 July 2008

Indonesia and Jemaah Islamiyya

There have not been any terrorist bombings in Indonesia for some time. Hopefully, it will stay like this for some time into the future. It seems the Indonesian police are on a bit of a roll and in particular the anti-terrorist unit, Detachment 88, who have arrested a further 10 suspected Jemaah Islamiyya followers and wanna be terrorists. The Spiritual Head of Jemaah Islamiyya is Abu Bakar Ba'asyir (Bashir) (make whatever interpretation you will of the cartoon / caricature).

The police allege that the 10 were planning to bomb a cafe somewhere in Sumatra. The police did not say where, but I would of thought the most likely place would have to be Medan. However, if the attack was to be directed at tourists then places like Danau Toba and Bukit Tinggi might be likely. The Bedudel Cafe in the Chinatown district of Bukit Tinggi has been listed as a target in the past.

The suspects are linked to Mas Selamat bin Kastari. Mas Selamat is alleged to head up Singapore's JI operations and recently embarrassed Singaporean authorities with the ease of his escape from custody. One of the suspects is an English teacher, not that that is important on its own, who is also the chief bomb making instructor.

Police spokesman, Abubakar Nataprawira, said that the teacher was arrested in South Sumatra on Saturday "based on a red notice issued by the Singapore government for involvement in the terrorist network of JI, which is a forbidden terrorism organisation in Singapore". This is likely to mean that the suspect is Singaporean but he could easily be Indonesian. The police have only released his initials, MH, so far. However, the belief is that MH is closely linked to Mas Selamat. Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group believes that MH is most likely a member of the Singaporean JI cell.

Mas Selamat was arrested and detained in Singapore as intelligence at the time indicated that the JI cell in Singapore were advanced in a plan to hijack a plane and crash it into Changi airport back in 2001.

Although the arrests will prove to be another setback to JI in Indonesia and perhaps the region, the threat still remains with Noordin Mohammad Top still at large. Top is known to be committed to targeting places that are frequented by foreigners and civilians.

The suspects also include the Head of a local hard-line religious group who was once accused of trying to murder a priest in 2005. Another of the suspects is the Head of a local Pesantren or Islamic Boarding School who is alleged to have received terror training in Afghanistan in the 1980's.

These are significant arrests but with the real leaders still at large it is a bit premature to say that the end is nigh for JI. Nevertheless, 10 arrests at once is sure to make a significant dent in the operational capabilities of JI. Perhaps some of the suspects might be knowledgeable enough that the bigger fish might be caught as well.

But credit must be given where credit is due. Credit is due here because the planning for a terrorist bomb attack by these clowns was well advanced. The police have saved lives with these arrests and for that we must be grateful.

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