x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jemaah Islamiyah faction is prime suspect in Jakarta bombings

A Malaysian master bomb-maker and JI hardliner, Noorudin Mohammed Top, who is wanted in connection with a string of deadly terrorist attacks in Indonesia is believed to be behind the latest attacks on luxury hotels in the US-owned Marriott chain. Lax security and the desire to offer a welcoming face to their guests, have made hotels easy targets for terrorists.

Although Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was quick to point out that the perpetrators of Friday's bombings in Jakarta remain unknown, the finger of suspicion immediately pointed towards the extremist organisation, Jemaah Islamiyah, which was responsible for the Bali bombings in 2002. Jakarta's JW Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels were struck by bombings on Friday morning, killing nine and injuring more than 50 others. Each attack appears to have been carried out by suicide bombers who had entered the hotels as guests several days earlier. Time magazine noted: "The attacks, which came just nine days after [Mr Yudhoyono's] resounding re-election, had deflated what was supposed to be a period of celebration. And so, just hours after suicide bombers struck the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels nearly simultaneously..., Yudhoyono addressed his country in an uncharacteristically emotional speech. "Holding up a picture of himself, the president said he received intelligence that gun-toting masked extremists had used his face as target practice. SBY, as the president is commonly known in Indonesia, also said that radicals had vowed that 'there would be a revolution if SBY wins' and that 'they wished to turn Indonesia into [a theocracy like] Iran.' Although, the president did not explicitly link such intelligence with the July 17 terror attacks, the implication was clear: the men who wanted to hurt Indonesia also wanted to damage the moderate ex-general who is leading the world's most-populous Muslim-majority democracy. "During his first term in office, SBY had supervised a dramatic dismantling of the domestic Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network that is believed to have orchestrated a string of deadly attacks across Indonesia from 2002 to 2005, killing nearly 300 people. (The attacks included two assaults on the resort island of Bali and a 2003 car-bombing of the same Marriott that was targeted on Friday.) Dozens of high-level operatives from the al Qa'eda-linked group were jailed, and younger recruits were funneled through a re-education programme designed to lure them away from JI ideology, which advocates the creation of an Islamic caliphate across Asia." Jason Burke, writing in The Guardian said: "JI has evolved significantly since the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people, mainly western tourists, and brought it to global attention. Since then, and as with such movements elsewhere, it has become more complex and fragmented. "Mainstream JI factions now oppose violence unless it is in direct defence of threatened Muslim communities - understood as those caught up in Indonesia's periodic bouts of sectarian violence. Instead, they believe the best way to realise their eventual goal of an Islamic state in Indonesia and across much of south-east Asia is dawa, or proselytisation. "JI's co-founder, the cleric Abu Bakar Bashir who was imprisoned in the wake of the Bali bombings and then controversially acquitted, continues to use violent language but is not believed to be in a position to actively instigate attacks even if he wished to do so. "However, a hardline fringe of JI believes the moderates have sold out. "Constituting a loose network on the margins of the organisation, rather than a coherent faction, the most prominent among the hardliners is Noorudin Mohammed Top." The Wall Street Journal reported: "An unexploded bomb found at one of the Jakarta hotels targeted by suicide bombers on Friday provides 'strong indications' that Southeast Asia's most-wanted Islamic terrorist was behind the deadly hotel attacks, a senior Indonesian antiterrorism official said a day after the explosions. "Even before the bombings at the JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton, which killed nine people, Indonesian police had ramped up a hunt for Noordin Mohammad Top, a Malaysian master bomb-maker who is wanted in connection with a string of deadly terrorist attacks in Indonesia, said Ansyaad Mbai, the head of counterterrorism at Indonesia's Coordinating Ministry for Political and Security Affairs, in an interview Saturday. "Earlier this week, police raided a house belonging to Mr Noordin's father-in-law in Cilacap, a port town on the south coast of Indonesia's main Java island, Mr Mbai said. In the house, investigators uncovered material for making home-made bombs similar to an unexploded device found in room 1808 of the JW Marriott, which the suicide bombers were using as their command centre. "Mr Mbai said the link wasn't 'hard evidence,' but the unexploded bomb showed 'strong indications' that Mr Noordin or terrorist cells linked to him were involved in Friday's events. 'The bomb in the Marriott was similar to ones we found in Cilacap,' he said." The Associated Press said: "While National Police spokesman Maj Gen Nanan Soekarna said they 'cannot say for sure whether Noordin M Top led this bombing,' others were more certain. " 'I'm 200 per cent sure this was his work,' said Nasir Abbas, a former Jemaah Islamiyah leader turned police informant who has worked with police on investigations into Indonesia's last three terrorist attacks. "A police investigator told the Associated Press on Saturday that Noordin was the most likely suspect. " 'Considering the target, the location and content of the bombs, it was clearly the work of Noordin,' the investigator said, declining to give his name because he wasn't authorised to speak to the media." Reporting for Bloomberg, James Rupert noted: "Security guards at Jakarta's Grand Hyatt Hotel last week waved a Bloomberg reporter through the entrance without a search even after he set off a metal detector. A guard at the Taj Bengal hotel in Kolkata, India, this week refused a Bloomberg reporter's offer to open his bag for a search, saying 'No, sir, you are our guest, there is no need to disturb you.' "The Jakarta Grand Hyatt escalated its security measures after yesterday's attack, while saying it is operating 'as usual,' said Erika Anggreini, the hotel's marketing and communications manager, in a phone interview. Jyoti Mishra, a duty manager at the Taj Bengal, said today the failure to search the bag was 'an aberration.' " 'I do not feel very safe,' said Johan Van der Velde, a Dutch vacationer staying at Mumbai's Trident. 'I was not checked when I came in last night, probably because I am not Indian.' "Hotels aren't new targets for extremists. In 1946, the Irgun, a violent wing of the Jewish pro-independence movement, bombed Jerusalem's King David Hotel, killing British bureaucrats and army officers who then governed Palestine under a United Nations mandate."

pwoodward@thenational.ae