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The Bali Bombings: The Fall-Out

David Miller Online.

The Bali Bombings: The Fall-Out.

Until one or more groups claim responsibility for the Bali bombings then it is difficult to say for certain who was behind them and what their motivations where. Already suspicion has fallen on the al-Qaeda network and the attacks have prompted fears that this was a demonstration of the group’s global reach and ability to deliver devastating attacks anywhere in the world and that the realm of terrorism is widening. There are also fears that this was the work of domestic Islamic groups with al-Qaeda connections and that they seek to establish and Islamic state across Southeast Asia. Whichever explanation one accepts there is no denying that these bombs have left one of Asia’s most fragile economies reeling and the setting of a dangerous precedent in this part of the world.

One of the explanations offered by the Indonesian government was that these attacks were part of a rivalry between local gangs. This could well prove to be the case. After all, the bombs are reported to be homemade although this theory could be tested once the degree of sophistication of the devices is known. The type of explosive used and the technology that went into constructing these devices should give an indication as to the level of funding and planning that went into the attacks. If the devices are found to be crude then the Indonesian government’s explanation will be given some weight. If not, then it would suggest a more sinister plot was at work.

Assuming that this was the work of Islamic extremists and the Jemaah Islamiyah movement was involved then Indonesia and the Asian region is faced with a much more serious problem. Jemaah Islamiyah is suspected of having links with al-Qaeda and even though the strength of these ties cannot be judged for certain, they share the same motivation and objectives. Jemaah Islamiyah has stated that it is dedicated to establishing a pan-Islamic zone across Southeast Asia and is accused of being behind plots to attack US interests in the region.

The scope of international terrorism has widened to include Southeast Asia. This is something analysts have feared for some time now. Indonesia is seen as an ideal base of operations for Islamic terrorists given its population size and geographical location and from there they could easily extend their reach to neighbouring countries. By locating to Indonesia and other Asian states, there is the possibility that the extremists can exploit cleavages in the political and economic fabric that was torn apart by the economic crisis of 1998. Indonesia has not recovered from this crisis that saw its currency and financial markets plummet and these attacks will only serve to aggravate that damage. There is already debate over the impact the attacks will have on the Indonesian economy and whether it can ever recover. Tourism was one of the last big money earners for the country and it is doubtful that the tourist industry will ever recover.

Out of this has come much political and ethnic instability and violence. Nationalist and ethnic tensions have never been far from the surface within Indonesian society and in the past four years these have boiled over into conflict. It is possible that these attacks were a continuation of that cycle of violence and that the extreme nationalists decided to widen their campaign to include foreigners but the last four years have witnessed the rise of Islamic extremists in this part of the world. This is the first time foreigners have been targeted so this has definitely set a new and dangerous precedent. What these attacks tell us is that there are elements within Indonesia that do not want western influence or participation in their country and that they are now considered targets. It also suggests much anti-US sentiment is there as well and these two factors are linked. The US led war on terrorism has outraged many in Indonesia as it has elsewhere and the Indonesian government has been forced to walk a tight line between its support for the US and those groups within its own borders who oppose this support and seek to overthrow it.

It is still unknown who or what group carried out these attacks and why and only when this is known can the link to al-Qaeda be determined. Until then it is merely speculation and suspicion but it cannot be ruled out. If these attacks mark the beginning of a new terrorist offensive then the emphasis must shift from the Middle East to Southeast Asia and Indonesia and other regional governments must be pressed to do more to counter this threat. Nevertheless these attacks hint at much instability and uncertainty for the Asian region and that after Afghanistan, countries such as Indonesia are the next place for al-Qaeda and its affiliates to gather. The war on terrorism now has a new front.

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