Indonesia, Saudi Arabia make gains against Islamist militants
US training pays off in fight against Al Qaeda, but cause for concern about terrorism still remains.
In the past week US-backed forces in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have made major headway combating Al Qaeda-linked groups that operate within their borders.
South Africa's news24 reports that Indonesia's security services announced last week that they arrested two leaders of the terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) earlier this month. The group is believed responsible for a series of attacks inside the country during the first half of this decade, reports Reuters. Long criticized for poor performance dealing with the Al Qaeda-aligned JI, Indonesian security services are now receiving praise for appearing to get the upper hand on domestic militants.
But the Associated Press reports that Indonesian officials are warning that more attacks are still a real possibility despite the arrests of Zarkasih, described as the group's leader, and Abu Dujana, alleged to be its military chief and the leader of an elite JI unit.
Indonesia's top detective, Lt. Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri, said the hunt for other terrorist suspects was continuing on Java and Sulawesi islands, where the network was trying to rebuild.
"Jemaah Islamiyah hasn't been destroyed," he said, amid claims that they continue to collect guns, ammunition and explosives. "They are still recruiting people and holding military training" in the southern Philippines.
JI has had a hand in every major terrorist attack in Indonesia since the mid-1990s, including an October 2002 bombing on the tourist island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, and other bombings that claimed at least 50 other lives.
Mr. Zarkasih's arrest quickly followed the arrest of Mr. Abu Dujana in Central Java, and The New York Times reports that Indonesian officials are convinced that Zarkasih, previously unknown to the public, was crucial to the group's operations.
The two arrests deal a major blow to the organization. The arrest of Abu Dujana seriously weakens its military wing and will make Indonesia more secure from terrorists' attacks, analysts and law enforcement officials said. And, they added, the capture of Zarkasih will hinder the already fractured network's ability to rebuild.
"He is the emir of Jemaah Islamiyah," Col. Petrus Golose of the national police force, a member of the antiterrorism team, said of Zarkasih in an interview. "He controls everyone; everyone important reports to him."
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports in an interview with Sidney Jones, the leading authority on JI, that the respect and credibility of Abu Bakar Bashir, who is considered the religious leader of the group and is now living free on Java, could be damaged by the fallout from the arrest. Mr. Bashir, who publicly encourages Muslims to engage in attacks on Western targets, has long denied involvement with JI.
"He's already denying some of the statements that Abu Dujana has been releasing. So I think it's huge and I think it's going to diminish Abu Bakar Bashir's credibility, even among his own followers," Ms. Jones said.
But in other interviews compiled by the Singapore-based MediaCorp's Today website, Jones also cautioned that the group has proven resilient when leaders have been arrested in the past.
"This is going to throw the leadership of JI into serious disarray, but they can recover," Jones said. "It's not a fatal blow ... I think we have to understand that the bottom of the network is still quite strong.''
The arrests have yielded some evidence of long-running disagreements in JI. Interviewed by Indonesia's Tempo Magazine, Abu Dujana said he had strongly opposed the JI's operation against the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003 and was ignored by another JI leader, Noordin Top.
Speaking at a police facility in the central Javan city of Yogyakarta, Dujana accused Top of planning the Marriott attack on his own and said that he was "mad with Noordin for his action." Later, I learned that the meeting with Noordin had put me on a suspect list of those who were involved in the planning of Marriott bombing," he said, referring to intelligence analysis. "I just laughed when I read that in the media," he added.
Ken Conboy, a Jakarta-based security consultant, writes on the Counterterrrorism blog that "the Indonesian police are now painting a picture of a terrorist organization attempting to consolidate in the face of heavy attrition."
The Asia Times says the arrests are another success for the US trained and armed Detachment 88, Indonesia's elite antiterror squad. The unit has become much more effective in recent years, thanks to close cooperation with the US and Australia.
Equipped with US weaponry and assault vehicles, including Colt M4 assault rifles, Armalite AR-10 sniper rifles and Remington 870 shotguns, the elite unit has become one of the top anti-terror units, if not the top, in the world, during (Indonesian President Bambang) Yudhoyono's watch.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer this week praised Indonesia for doing "an outstanding job in combating terrorism".
Saudi Arabia, another country that has received extensive US assistance in its efforts against Al Qaeda-aligned militants, also scored a success this month. Agence France-Presse reports that Saudi officials arrested about a dozen suspects alleged to be major "financiers and inciters of terrorism" inside the kingdom, according to Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz.
Those arrested have an influential role and they could be more important than those who committed the terror attacks themselves," Prince Nayef said.
The Saudi Gazette quoted Prince Nayef as saying the government is now focused on denying militants and their supporters' use of the Internet to disseminate propaganda.
He emphasized the need for a balance between analytical work and security activity in order to correct any misconceptions about Islam. Prince Naif highlighted the role cyber security experts at the ministry are playing. He said they are apprehending and exposing deviants and those involved in terrorism on the Internet.
To be sure, Al Qaeda allies are still demonstrating the ability to carry out attacks in many countries. On Sunday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a massive bomb that struck a police academy in Kabul, killing at least 35 people, reports the BBC.
The Associated Press reports that it was the deadliest single insurgent attack in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban.