More than a dozen people were killed and more than 100 injured in a bombing at the JW Marriott hotel in central Jakarta on Aug. 5. The prime suspect is Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional Islamist militant organization linked to al Qaeda. Though bombings in Jakarta are fairly frequent — there have been five so far this year — the attack occurred at what was believed to be a relatively secure hotel at a time of heightened security in the Indonesian capital.
The Aug. 5 bombing at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, in which more than a dozen people were killed, raises some serious questions about the security forces in Indonesia and the capabilities of the prime suspect — Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). The attack occurred around lunchtime outside what was believed to be one of the more secure Western hotels in Jakarta. The recently built Marriott was set off the road, making it a harder target for car bombs. Both the Australian and U.S. diplomatic corps used the Marriott for functions, believing its setting made it less exposed to militant strikes. Australian Prime Minister John Howard stayed at the hotel earlier this year, and U.S. officials hosted Fourth of July celebrations there in 2002 and 2003. The hotel's physical location obviously was not enough to deter the attackers, who according to preliminary reports transported the bomb to the hotel in a minivan painted like a taxi. The van apparently was in the taxi queue when the bomb detonated, and early reports said most of those killed were Indonesian taxi drivers. That JI or another group pulled off the attack at this particular hotel is telling in itself — but security in the area also was heightened in light of the current Parliament session, the final stages of the trial of one of the suspected Bali bombers and the recent discovery of nearly a ton of explosives at a house in Central Java. Sources close to the Indonesian security apparatus say the recent explosives and weapons haul was massive — even larger than figures released to the media stated. Given the heightened security measures in Jakarta, the attack suggests either a lapse or a failure on the part of the Indonesian security apparatus. But it also reflects the capabilities of JI, which has been credited with the Bali disco bombing in October 2002. Indonesian police already have pointed out similarities between the Bali and Marriott bombings — and though there has been no official finger-pointing, JI is the prime suspect in the most recent attack. That JI could carry out such an operation despite the present security conditions in Jakarta suggests the group is capable of further attacks — and that for this group, unlike for al Qaeda, the time between major attacks is relatively short. Many questions related to the Marriott bombing remain. For example, was Fathur Roman al Ghozi, a key JI bombmaker who recently escaped from prison in the Philippines, involved in this attack? Did Indonesian security forces fail to provide the necessary protection for Western business interests in Jakarta and instead focus on the areas around the National Assembly, where the current lawmaking session is under way? And can JI repeat its attacks outside Indonesia — in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand, for example — or is the situation in Indonesia simply more conducive to such attacks? Ultimately, the Marriott bombing likely will further damage foreign confidence in the Indonesian government's ability to maintain stability, even in the capital city. According to one source in Indonesia, at least three people in Central Java have been shot in a week while withdrawing money from banks — two of them foreigners. This kind of crime — and the five bombings in Jakarta so far this year — leave foreigners with little sense of security or confidence in the Indonesian government. This could undermine the government's ability to attract foreign investments and contribute to another economic slide for Indonesia.