October 14,


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B Raman

Indonesian terror groups want to establish Islamic Caliphate in South East Asia

A massive explosion from a car bomb destroyed a night club at the Kuta beach resort on the tourist island of Bali in Indonesia on October 12, sparking a devastating fire that killed at least 187 people and wounded more than 300 -- many of them foreigners, mainly Australians, Germans, Canadians, Britons and Swedes. Indonesian police chief General Da'i Bachtiar told the media that the explosion came from a Kijang, a jeep-like vehicle, and called it the worst act of terrorism in Indonesia's history. According to local officials, a second bomb exploded near the island's US consular office, but there were no casualties.

All indicators received till now point to its being a terrorist strike, most probably connected to the first anniversary of the beginning of the US air strikes in Afghanistan on October 7 and the preparations for a possible US-UK intervention in Iraq to have President Saddam Hussein overthrown. There have been two terrorist strikes almost coinciding with the first anniversary. The first was the ramming by a boat filled with explosives against a French super tanker off Yemen on October 6 and the second the explosions in Bali, which have come five days after the anniversary. A terrorist organisation in Aden is reported to have claimed responsibility for the strike against the tanker, but its claim is yet to be verified.

While the Yemen incident was apparently a suicide attack, it is not clear if the Bali explosions were also suicide attacks. For many months now, Indonesia has been developing as a major hub of South East Asia-based Islamic terrorist groups with two different motivations -- a pan-Islamic one aiming to achieve a Caliphate in the region covering southern Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, southern Philippines and Brunei; an anti-Christian one targeting the Christian community, many of whose members happen to be ethnic Chinese.

The developments in Indonesia have an interesting parallel in the pan-Islamic and anti-Christian motivations operating in tandem in Pakistan and the pan-Islamic and anti-Hindu motivations similarly operating in tandem in India.

The pan-Islamic organisations of Pakistan, members of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front For Jehad Against the US and Israel -- the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul Jehad-al-Islami, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- seek to achieve an Islamic Caliphate in South Asia and look upon Hinduism as a corrupting influence on Islam not only in Pakistan, but also in Indonesia. They blame Hinduism for making Islam soft in Indonesia.

Against this background, the selection of Bali, with its predominantly Hindu population, for this most devastating terrorist strike is disquieting. It also needs to be noted that President Megawati Sukarnoputri's mother was a Muslim of Balinese Hindu origin and before her election as president, some Islamic extremists in Indonesia had referred to this while expressing reservations about her becoming the country's leader.

However, there is so far no evidence to show that the explosions had anything to do with the predominantly Hindu nature of the Island or Megawati's family background. Bali seems to have been chosen for the terrorist strike mainly because security precautions there were very relaxed since it was not considered by Indonesian intelligence and security agencies as a likely trouble spot. In an assessment prepared in April, they had identified six security 'trouble spots' in Indonesia from the point of view of the fight against Islamic terrorism -- Aceh, Maluku, Papua, Sampit in Central Kalimantan, Poso in Central Sulawesi and West Timor. According to Indonesian intelligence officials, foreign terrorist groups had used Poso as a training ground in recent years. The attraction of Bali to the terrorists also arises from the fact that it gets a large number of Australian and Western tourists.

Amongst the foreign nationals who fought in the International Islamic Front as members of its Pakistani components were American Muslims (mostly African-American), nationals/residents of West European countries, Thais, Malaysians, Singaporeans, who projected themselves as Malays from Malaysia and Indonesians. Their total number was estimated to be about 200. Practically all of them had been recruited by the Harkats and Lashkar teams, which went to these countries posing as preachers of the Tablighi Jamaat, brought to Pakistan and trained in various madrasas with funds provided by the TJ and then taken to Afghanistan to get a jehad inoculation.

In addition to those mentioned above, there were about 400 foreign students recruited by the Harkats and Lashkar from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, who were studying at the various madrasas in Pakistan before their being inducted into jehad. Of these, 190 were being trained in jehad at the madrasas of Sindh, 151 in the madrasas of Punjab and 59 in those of  the North-West Frontier Province.

Of the 190 being trained in Sindh, 86 were from Malaysia, 82 from Thailand and 22 from Indonesia. Of the 151 being trained in the Punjab, 61 were from Malaysia, 49 from Thailand and 41 from Indonesia. Of the 59 being trained in the NWFP, 21 were from Indonesia, 20 from Malaysia and 18 from Thailand. Thus, there were 167 Malaysians, 149 Thais and 84 Indonesians being trained in various madrasas in Pakistan.

Reports of the fighting earlier this year by the dregs of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other components of the International Islamic Front against the US troops (Operation Anaconda)  brought to light the participation of trained Indonesian jehadis in the fight against US troops. It is learnt that these jehadis were trained in the Lashkar training camp in Muridke in Punjab from where they were sent to eastern Afghanistan to participate in the fighting against US troops. According to The News of Islamabad (March 15, 2002) one of the dead bodies recovered by pro-US Afghan troops after fighting in the Shahi Kot area had an Indonesian identity card.

Evidence available so far indicates that while the terrorists from Malaysia and possibly Singapore were trained in the Jaish headquarters at the Binori madrasa complex in Karachi, those from Indonesia were trained at the Lashkar's Muridke complex near Lahore. The Harkat Mujahideen has always been training recruits from southern Philippines and Myanmar, in addition to those from Xinjiang, Chechnya, Dagestan and the Central Asian Republics. The Hakrat Jehad trains those from Bangladesh. Before October 7, 2001, the Harkats training camps were located in eastern Afghanistan. It is not known where they have been shifted since then. However, it is known that in the past they had used the infrastructure of the Tablighi Jamaat in Raiwind in Punjab for training purposes.

Since July, unconfirmed rumours have been circulating in Karachi and elsewhere about a large number of members of Al Qaeda, including some leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama's No 2, having escaped to Bangladesh, with the help of the Harkat Jehad, which has an active branch in Bangladesh assisted by the Bangladeshi military-intelligence establishment. What seems to have happened and is still happening is that many Bangladeshis, Arakanese, Malays from Singapore and Malaysia, Indonesians and Filipinos, who had fought as members of the Hakats and Lashkar against the Northern Alliance and subsequently against the US in Afghanistan, have been finding their way, with the help of the Hakrat Jehad and the Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh, a member of the ruling coalition in Dhaka, into Bangladesh.

Unconfirmed reports mention the presence in Bangladesh of Riduan Isamuddin of Indonesia, better known as Hambali, the 36-year-old cleric wanted by the US and four South-East Asian countries as the terrorist mastermind of Al Qaeda's Asian operations and the guiding force of South East Asian terrorism. It is likely that some of these terrorist dregs have since sneaked back to their countries of origin.

The Bali explosions probably mark the return to Indonesia of some of the dregs from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The talk in Pakistani madrasas has been that from now onwards members of the International Islamic Front would conduct a well-orchestrated series of terrorist attacks against Western nationals and interests in different parts of the world as warning signals to pre-empt US-UK military strikes against Iraq. The attacks on the French tanker off Yemen and in Bali were apparently part of this planned series and more are likely as the US and the UK go ahead with their preparations for an attack on Iraq for the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein.

B Raman

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