Mon, Jul 27, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Islamic extremists survive despite crackdown in Indonesia

While authorities suspect that some Islamic schools help keep the terrorist network alive, they are hesitant to scrutinize them for fear of a public backlash

By Norimitsu Onishi  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , JAKARTA

The Indonesian government’s crackdown on militant Islamic groups has been widely praised in recent years, particularly by the US. Proof of its success rested in the fact that, after annual terrorist attacks earlier this decade, none had taken place in nearly four years.

But as a clearer picture has begun emerging of Friday’s coordinated suicide bombings at Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, terrorism experts and some Indonesian officials are focusing on what they describe as weaknesses in Indonesia’s anti-terrorism campaign. Although the authorities have arrested hundreds of militants and severely weakened Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terrorist network, they have had much less success in uprooting the culture that breeds extremism.

The authorities have failed to aggressively check the radical clerics, Islamic schools or publishing houses that allow extremists to recruit and raise money for their operations, these experts said. Even moderate, politically powerful religious leaders, who are against violence, oppose any perceived government interference in their affairs. And as democracy has become entrenched since the fall of former Indonesian president President Suharto a decade ago, the authorities have appeared hesitant to use tactics that may recall the era of military rule.

“The bombings should be a catalyst for Indonesia to develop a more comprehensive approach,” said Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “They’ve been too focused on catching operators when they need to be tougher in actually preventing terrorism. They should take the boxing gloves off.”

The police have still not arrested anyone in the attacks, which killed seven people, including six foreigners, and wounded 50 more. Last Wednesday, the police released sketches of two men suspected of being the suicide bombers and who were initially counted among the victims. Nanan Soekarna, a spokesman for the national police, said that DNA tests showed that the remains of neither of the suspected bombers matched a man named Nur Said, a militant whom the local news media had identified as one of the suicide bombers.

Investigators also detained a woman identified as Ariana Rahma, who is believed to be married to Noordin Muhammad Top, the prime suspect in the attacks, the local news outlets reported. She is said to be the daughter of the head of an Islamic boarding school in Cilacap, Central Java, that was raided last month. Investigators in that raid discovered bomb-making materials identical to those used on Friday, the police have said.

The authorities have said that the bomb-making methods and the nature of the attacks indicated strongly that they were the work of Noordin, a Malaysian extremist who is believed to be behind the attacks earlier this decade.

He was once a senior official in Jemaah Islamiyah and is the most wanted fugitive in Southeast Asia. Many extremist groups operating in Indonesia are said to have ties to him.

Though Noordin has evaded capture over the years, the Indonesian authorities have greatly disrupted Jemaah Islamiyah’s leadership. Once a network with operations throughout Southeast Asia, experts said, it now survives mostly in Indonesia in loosely affiliated small groups. The Indonesian government has also run a much-praised program in certain prisons that works to persuade Islamic militants to give up extremism.

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