Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is the threat of terrorism growing in Indonesia?

The Bush years left me both wary of VOA and a fan of the American broadcaster.  I noted here the exploitation of VOA's overseas television service by right-wing think tanks.  On the other hand, Jotman has had nothing but good things to say about VOA's Burmese language broadcast service.

Today comes a rather alarming headline from VOA.  The headline reads, "Security Experts say Indonesian Terrorism Threat Growing."    The article nevertheless notes that substantial progress has been made  against Indonesian terrorists:
Since a deadly bombing attack on hotels in Jakarta last year, Indonesian security forces have tracked down the militants responsible and prevented other attacks.   They also killed Noordin Top, the leader of the group that carried out the attack on the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. And they hunted down and killed a man known as Dulmantin, who had long been on Indonesia's most-wanted list, suspected of being involved in a 2002 attack on the island of Bali.
The lede:  "Recently Indonesia police received praise for dismantling a terrorist training camp and killing a leading terror suspect. But security experts say these police raids also indicate a growing terrorism threat in Indonesia."

Therefore, according to "experts" the threat is growing?

Not exactly.  Only one analyst interviewed by VOA, Andi Widjajanto, actually makes this claim:
While the security forces have been praised for these actions, Andi Widjajanto, a military analyst from the University of Indonesia, is concerned that the increased police activity also indicates an increased level of militant activity.

"I think after the Marriott and (Ritz) Carlton 2009, after the raid of Aceh and Pamulang, there is a strong indication that the network is getting stronger and stronger," Widjajanto said. "It is not getting weaker."
Successful police action does not necessarily correlate with an increased threat level.   Unfortunately, Widjatanto does not offer any further reasons to substantiate his claim -- just his opinion.

The other expert quoted in the VOA story is Sidney Jones.  Jones of the International Crisis Group is widely regarded as a leading authority on the activities of terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. According to a Reuters report on the death of Noordin Top:
Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group said Top  had been the only leading militant leader in Indonesia who had still been campaigning for implementation of Osama bin Laden's 1998 fatwa on killing Westerners. "There isn't another radical leader in Indonesia who has given that same message so consistently," said Jones. She said Top's death was "a huge blow for the extremist organizations in Indonesia and the region."  "It's a major success for the police but it doesn't mean, unfortunately, that the problem of terrorism is over. It's still unclear how many people were in Noordin's group and there are a number of fugitives still at large.
As quoted in the VOA article, Sidney Jones does not claim that the threat is "growing," but that Indonesian policies have allowed formerly convicted terrorists to get back into the terror business:
"The evidence of this group shows the weakness of intelligence. Why did it take so long to realize that released prisoners were involved in the planning of this? Terribly weak monitoring of prisons, prisoners and ex-prisoners and a poor understanding of radicalization and recruitment," Jones states. 

She says the security forces should be more proactive in monitoring what she calls high-risk suspects. "When there are people that we know who have been involved with Noordin (Top), or have been involved in violence, who have served their sentences and who are about to get released, and who have been visited regularly by fellow prisoners who have been released, you would think it would trigger something that these people are high risks, so there should be a way of designating some kind of special category for more intensive monitoring," Jones said. 
The VOA article provides scant evidence to substantiate its headline, but there seems to be good reason to conclude the threat has not gone away.   Jones advises that "Indonesia needs to focus more on intelligence work and preventing the recruitment of new militants through education and community involvement."

The evidence speaks not to the "growth" of terrorism in Indonesia, but the perception that Indonesian police and intelligence have failed to keep a lid on a preexistent and manageable threat.   


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