Jemaah Islamiyah Militants and Bali's Soft Targets

4 MINS READOct 3, 2005 | 21:46 GMT
Three suicide bombers struck almost simultaneously in different locations on the Indonesian resort island of Bali the evening of Oct. 1, killing at least 25 people and injuring more than 100. The most likely perpetrator of the attack is Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an al Qaeda-affiliated militant group operating in Southeast Asia, although no group has claimed responsibility. The target selection and methodology of the attack is consistent with JI — and demonstrates that the group's ability to conduct operations has not declined. The first bombings occurred in two seafood cafes in the town of Jimbaran at approximately 7:20 p.m. local time, and the third occurred less than a half hour later at the Raja Bar, a three-story noodle and steak house in the town of Kuta, about 18 miles north of Jimbaran. All three bombers — who were wearing backpacks containing probably less than 20 pounds of explosives and shrapnel, including ball bearings — walked into the restaurants before their devices detonated, likely by remote control, according to Indonesian authorities. Indonesian and U.S. authorities have been warning about possible attacks in Indonesia, especially against Western business interests and tourists. In August, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warned that terrorist cells were active and on the move in his country, and could be preparing to strike. Intelligence and counterterrorism officials have suspected that terrorists were planning an operation in Indonesia since the spring, and in March the Australian and U.S. governments issued a warning to their citizens traveling to Indonesia.
On Sept. 30, the day before the attacks, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta issued another Warden Message warning against possible attacks in "… places where Americans and other Westerners live, congregate, shop or visit, including hotels, clubs, restaurants, shopping centers…" Australian Prime Minister John Howard acknowledged Oct. 3 that there had been indications of a general terrorist threat in Indonesia, but said neither Jakarta nor any Western government had received specific intelligence. Four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, global counterterrorism efforts continue to be hit-or-miss regarding specific threats on a level known as "down in the weeds" among security specialists. The U.S. warning Sept. 30 reflects a known pattern of JI and al Qaeda target selection. The Oct. 1 attacks occurred almost exactly three years after JI suicide bombers attacked a nightclub in Bali on Oct. 11, 2002, killing more than 200 people, most of them foreign tourists. In August 2003, a suicide bomber attacked the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, killing 12 people and wounding more than 150. In September 2004, a suicide car bomber attacked the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, killing nine people and injuring almost 200. JI chose its most recent targets because they met several requirements. The restaurants were packed with foreign tourists, a frequent target of Islamist terrorists. Moreover, the restaurants were packed, meaning the blasts would kill or maim a large number of people. In addition, unlike a Western embassy in Jakarta, or the resort's large hotels — which have been protected like fortresses since the Indonesian bombing campaign began — the restaurants offered fewer obstacles to the bombers. In response to the warnings from the U.S., Australian and Indonesian governments, hotels in Bali have increased security measures — and, importantly, have made these measures highly visible. As an example, a hotel owned by a Western multinational cooperation in Jimbaran has a staff of approximately 40 private security personnel, as well as 15 police stationed on its property 24 hours a day. The hotel also routinely checks cars at it front gate, away from the entrance and lobby areas, and suspicious-looking individuals are subject to search. When planning the attack, the organizers of the Oct. 1 bombings were deterred by these obvious security precautions, and chose less-protected targets. The latest attacks indicate that JI is at least capable of maintaining the operational tempo that began with the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing — one large attack about once a year. By attacking resorts in Bali a second time, JI has demonstrated that it can conduct complicated, coordinated operations despite the island's increased security. The 2002 Bali bombing was arguably JI's most successful hit to date. The two attacks that followed, against a Western hotel and embassy, were carried out against much harder targets, and resulted in fewer casualties. Although hitting harder targets is a little more prestigious in the militant mindset, JI planners appear to have learned from their latter attacks — and are moving back to undefended targets.

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