The Bali Bombings: JI's Increasing Sophistication

3 MINS READNov 4, 2005 | 01:11 GMT
More than a month has passed since the Oct. 1 triple suicide-bombing attack against restaurants in the Indonesian resort of Bali, and yet little progress has been made in the Australian-Indonesian investigation. Authorities are certain they know who masterminded the bombings, which killed 26 people and wounded more than 100, but forensic investigators seem to be struggling to identify the operational organizers and to determine the kind of devices used. Almost immediately after the attack, Indonesian authorities claimed that senior Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) operatives Noordin Top and Azahari Husin, both Malaysians, had masterminded the attack. They, along with a suspect known only as Dulmatin, also are believed to have masterminded the first Bali bombing in October 2002, which killed 202 people. The three also are believed to have connections with Islamist paramilitary groups in the Philippines as well as with al Qaeda operatives in Malaysia. The investigation into the 2002 Bali bombing proceeded much faster than the current investigation. Working with evidence such as the vehicle identification number recovered from the chassis of the minivan used in the suicide attack, investigators identified several suspects and made several arrests shortly after the attack. Most of those apprehended were ancillary players — individuals who performed support functions for the attack. This time, leads and arrests are few and far between. Shortly after the attack, Indonesian police questioned dozens of people, but made no arrests and identified no suspects. Ten days after the bombings, police apprehended a 45-year-old construction worker believed to have shared a house with the three suicide bombers in Bali's capital, Denpasar, but who left the island three days before the attack. On Oct. 17, two men known only by their initials were arrested on the island of Sulawesi in connection with the attack after authorities received a tip-off from local residents. Indonesian investigators, however, appear to be on a massive fishing expedition, having questioned more than 600 people across Java and other islands in the archipelago, but turning up no substantial leads. The lack of progress in the investigation can be attributed to better techniques used by the attackers to cover their tracks. The second Bali bombing reveals an obvious shift in JI tactics, probably as a result of lessons learned since the 2002 attack and from experience gained from attacks in Jakarta against the JW Marriott Hotel in 2003 and the Australian Embassy in 2004. In essence, the latest Bali bombing displayed better JI planning, training and greater operational security. Investigators also are hampered by an apparent lack of forensic evidence from the devices used in the attacks, possibly because they were simple, well-constructed bombs that disintegrated on detonation. Smaller devices like those used in the most recent attack leave fewer residues than the large vehicle-borne bombs that JI has employed in the past. Use of bombs that leave fewer traces and better operational security, planning and training enabled the organizers of the second Bali attack to cover their tracks much better than their predecessors. This confirms that JI is adapting and refining its tactics, techniques and procedures faster than Indonesian counterterrorism authorities can adapt. Because of this, further attacks in Indonesia are likely against soft, Western targets — such as tourists.

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