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Evidence accrues in Bali blast

A meeting in Thailand last January confirms the link between Al Qaeda and a regional terror group.

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Investigators on three continents are moving closer to definitively tying Al Qaeda and its Indonesian allies to the Oct. 12 bomb blast at the Sari Club on the island of Bali that killed at least 190 people.

In particular, an alleged Al Qaeda operative in US custody has told interrogators that he and members of the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) agreed at a meeting in southern Thailand last January to strike at Southeast Asian tourist resorts such as Bali, according to a regional intelligence official.

Investigators say all of the evidence, while not quite a smoking gun, is pointing them in one direction. But even as it does, some analysts say, the opportunity presented to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to move decisively against domestic radicals is slipping away. Instead, the convoluted politics of the world's most populous Muslim nation are threatening to protect alleged members of terrorist groups.

Since the Bali bombing, domestic sympathy for JI – which US and Indonesian investigators strongly believe was involved in the attack – has only increased. At the same time, suspicion of foreign investigators, particularly those from the US, has soared.

Ms. Megawati has been largely silent, failing to try to rally the nation around an antiterror effort. The vacuum has been filled with rumor and speculation, with fingers pointing almost anywhere but at the small, tightknit network of Indonesian militants already linked to JI and implicated in a series of smaller bombings in the past three years.

"This whole discourse of denial and the strange behavior of the Indonesian government is attributable to domestic political realities,'' says Andrew Tan, a professor at Singapore's Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies. "Neither Megawati nor anybody else wants to risk being branded un-Islamic. So I think it's likely that radical groups will continue to flourish in Indonesia."

At present, Indonesia has roughly a dozen radical groups who claim their own militias. Although these are technically illegal, Jakarta has continued to leave them alone.


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