October 2, 2005 | FrontPageMagazine

Blood in Bali

At 8 o'clock Saturday night, horror struck once again in Bali. As of this writing, at least 26 people were killed 101 injured — including Indonesians, Americans, Australians, Koreans, and Japanese — by the bombs detonated in three restaurants across the tourism capital of the area. The financial losses are yet to be accurately determined. The terrorist attacks that shook the island — a mostly Hindu enclave within Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country — were bloody and psychologically devastating, but their most important dimension was strategic: these attacks showed terrorist recidivism. Indeed, it surprised no one when al-Qaeda's Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah targeted Jakarta in 2002, but that the group would strike again in the heart of the same city almost exactly three years later is certainly full of meaning. That would be the equivalent of New Yorkers witnessing two hijacked planes slamming into the Big Apple's skyscrapers sometime next September. The psychological devastation, even with fewer casualties, would be ballistic. That is the feeling among Bali’s population today: disbelief.

Why would the jihadists shed more blood, with suicide bombers, in the very same location of their most publicized attack, even though in terms of total casualties the attack proved less successful? “The terrorists are still looking for soft targets,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at a press conference after touring the devastated areas on the island. The top Indonesian anti-terrorism official, Maj. Gen. Ansyaad Mbai, said the two suspected masterminds of the bombings are Malaysians, accused to be part of the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group. The Indonesian authorities also accuse them of “orchestrating the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, as well as two other attacks in the Indonesian capital in 2003 and 2004.” The first Bali bombings, which also targeted nightclubs crowded with tourists on a Saturday night, killed 202 people, most of them foreigners. Jakarta's sources cited the names of the two alleged masterminds: Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top.

Over the past two years, Western and Indonesian intelligence agencies have warned that Jemaah Islamiya was planning for more attacks. Already by the time of the 2002 attacks, Jemaah Islamiyah has been linked to at least two other bombings in Indonesia, both in Jakarta: One outside the Australian Embassy in 2004 and the other at the J.W. Marriott hotel in 2003. The latter killed at least 23. But media reports insist that the jihadists' mentor, Abu Bakr Bashir (who has been jailed for plotting the 2002 attacks), denied any connection to the weekend explosions.

Why did Jemaah Islamiyah strike Bali proper for the second time? Why not find soft targets elsewhere? Who gave the order, and what is the involvement of al-Qaeda in this repeat attack? The Indonesian authorities didn't address the most strategic dimension of these questions. To be told that Jemaah has been active since 2002 is already known. What's new in these revelations? Of course Jemaah has been waging its jihadist operations since its inception. Never mind the incarceration of its spiritual leader Bashir, the very logic of jihadism is to move beyond the jailed leader and strike again. A diligent reading of the web chats and releases, let alone an intelligent analysis of al Jazeera's panels, suffice to reach a rational conclusion: Jemaah Islamiyah never called off its war against secularism, modernism, democracy, pluralism, and moderate Islam in Indonesia, let alone the weak infidels of Bali and the greater infidels of Australia and the West. That is the matrix; the rest are details.

In short, Indonesians and their allies must calculate their counter terrorism strategies based on the reality of an ongoing War on Terror, not a sporadic conflict with Jemaah, one actor in that war. The terror blasts cited between 2002 and last week end's renewed horror on the tortured island were not isolated incidents taking place from time to time over three years, but a series of systematic attacks conducted by an organization determined to wage jihad at its discretion, on its own timetable, and against the targets of its choosing. This new carnage should remind both Jakarta's authorities and their allies around the world that this is a global war.

On this level, official and media reports referred to “warnings” about possible renewal of Jemaah Islamiyah's suicide attacks somewhere in Indonesia. Such reports, if not specific, are stunning in their semantics: the terrorists have never retreated nor granted their enemy quarter. Jemaah has never stopped planning and gathering resources for operations. Indonesia's authorities should be psychologically mobilized non-stop against Jemaah and its sisters around the islands. So should the rest of the world. These are lessons to all other democracies and countries trying to become ones. The jihad wars against free societies have been declared and are waged on a daily basis. Those countries that haven't been hit will eventually be hit and those who have been targeted already will continue to be targeted. Even expect the sites that have been reached by violence to be visited again: Not only Baghdad and Basra, but also New York and London. The Jihadi terrorists are not different from the previous foes the free world had to face such as Nazis, Fascists, and Bolsheviks: For as long as they've marked a city or a country with “dar al Harb” or placed its population under the lethal status of “Kuffar (infidels).

My colleague, Professor Zachary Abuza, author of Militant Islam and South East Asia: Crucible of Terror, is a leading expert on Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). He says its its connection to al-Qaeda has advanced significant analysis on a tactical shift. Writing on the Counter Terrorism Blog last Saturday, he stated, “JI was formerly close to Al Qaeda, though that relationship has been in doubt owing to concerted counter-terror operations that have led to the arrests of much of the respective organization's leadership.” Moreover, he notes a technical, tactical shift: an “apparent shift back to smaller bombs.” Abuza asks:

Does this indicate the inability to procure the materials and indicate limited human and material resources to put together large bombs? Does it signify that the link to Al Qaeda, which passed over $130,000 to JI for operations no longer exist? The fact is we really don't know the extent of the current relationship.

Indeed, as other area experts and terror analysts concur, the modus operandi regarding the type of bombs, and their transporters has changed. The Jihadists, as I analyze in my forthcoming book, Future Jihad (November 2005), are currently in a state of mutation, as is the case with most organizations. Field experience and transformations are crucial in the shaping of new tactics and means of delivery. Just as it is less likely that a second Mohammad Atta team would proceed with the exact same plans to pulverize two NYC landmarks, it is less likely for JI to use the exact same material to blow up the same type of target in the same city. Most likely some of the components have to change, at least from a tactical angle. But these are only tactical analysis: what is the big picture? Here are some main themes:

1. Jemaah Islamiyah has engaged in strategic jihad in Indonesia and in neighboring nations with a global objective: to undermine current governments and replace them with Islamist regimes, so that a regional super-Emirate would be declared, from Mindanao to southern Thailand. The group is not a national liberation movement, nor another Asian drug empire. It is an ideological, transnational movement aimed at raising an empire to rule 250 million people (from various nations), to exploit vast oil reserves, and eventually to join a world Caliphate. Thus, JI is not a seasonal gathering that engages in explosions here and there, with an irrational plan. It is a network that recruits, deploys, gathers resources, strikes, absorbs Western reaction (including the arrests of its leaders and mentor), and reorganizes. This also explains why mere legal and police action are so ineffective: pinpricks only take out one layer of the organization, which the whole quickly learns it can live without. Military action alone takes out enough layers to keep the terrorists on the defensive.

2. JI specifically targets the stability of the largest Muslim nation on earth with the goal of establishing a Taliban-like power, possessing full control of Indonesia's vast oil production and reserves. To do so, the jihadists' aim at what I call “triggering valves.” Bali is one of them. Samuel Huntington called such areas in his book The Clash of Civilizations (1996) “fault lines.” The jihadists have discovered the importance of these “fault lines” where different religious civilizations meet (and sometimes collide) and turned them into “valves.” In simple words, the reason why Jemaah Islamiyah hit Bali for the second time is not only because it was a soft target, but because also it is a culturally and symbolically a “triggering spot.” Bali is mostly Hindu (with Buddhist and other influences), and therefore is considered “infidel.” Bali is also the center of materialistic pleasures, definitely projected as “infidel.” Last but not least, Bali is an international center of tourism, with the high likelihood of attracting Western, Asian, and other foreigners, all “Kuffars,” even if Muslim moderates live or work there. Combine these three dimensions, and you'd have an emple “trigger.” Until it shuts down or empties, the jihadists will most likely target it again and again. Obviously, they won't use the same tactics or weapons, but the strategic objective is the same.

3. In addition to this “triggering valve,” Bali has another function for the JI: by crumbling its economy, they expect a domino effect in different directions. Indonesia economy would lose significant income. Secondly, Bali's catastrophe would send messages to other parts of the country not to build similar dens of “infidel debauchery.” Three it would signal JI's power to cause a large nation's decline and encourage other groups to join its ranks. And beyond Bali, a double strike against the city would bring attention to the island, allowing the organization's allies in other parts of the country to go on the offensive.

4. Indonesia is already struggling with an increasing number of separatist movements in the form of the Malukus and Sulawesi, as well as in Aceh and Papua. Since non-Muslim East Timor violently gained its independence from Indonesia back in 1999, other Muslim and Christian island nations have sought (and are seeking) domestic sovereignty. A crucial question is the real position of Jemaah Islamiyah and the jihadists regarding these movements. Case by case, the Islamists would certainly oppose the separation of non-Muslim groups, as they did with East Timor, but would base their position on Muslim areas on the jihadi nature of the Muslim secessionists, that is, whether those leaving the union were radical Islamists or moderate Muslims. Striking in Bali, in the nervous center of international entertainment, Jemaah would drag world attention in one direction, while other sinister action is probably being prepared in areas. I have little doubt that the jihadists are not encouraged by U.S.-led humanitarian efforts to help the victims of the Tsunami in Aceh. One dimension of Bali's second attack is to divert attention from the positive image the “infidels” (especially the Great Satan) got in this effort.

5. Finally, one has always to ask about Jemaah Islamiyah's relations to al-Qaeda. Experts and analysts have different opinions of the state of these relations, but there is little doubt that relations between these murderous terrorist entities still exist. Not only do Islamist chat rooms and web postings constantly indicate that the southern Asian “brothers” are part of the Caliphate-to-come, and in close contact with al-Qaeda headquarters, but analytical readings of the global moves by the jihadists indicate that a distribution of role has been in the making for few years now. The jihadists have surpassed the Soviet methods of deception and are now able to impact, if not to influence Western and allied analysis.

Saturday's attack was a surprising step forward in the jihadists' agenda: they have terrorized a moderate Muslim nation in an area with a high concentration of so-called infidels. If the West does not stay on the offensive against terrorists militarily, America may suffer a similar fate.