Sun, Dec 14, 2003 - Page 5 News List

General finds his role as prophet a lonely one

TERRORISM The head of Indonesia's intelligence agency began warning about Islamic terrorist attacks years ago, though few were willing to listen


In the year before terrorists killed more than 200 revelers in a Bali nightclub, the head of Indonesia's intelligence agency, General A.M. Hendropriyono, said he was a lonely man.

He alerted Indonesian leaders that terrorists were at work, and could strike at anytime. No one listened, he said. After the World Trade Center attack, some politicians who noticed his friendship with the US ambassador, denounced him as a steward of the Americans.

"I warned all of these things might happen," the general, dressed in a bold, blue-checked shirt, said over a takeout Chinese brunch his staff had laid out elegantly in his spacious, wood-paneled office.

"Instead of listening to me, they blamed me," he said.

To illustrate how prescient he was, the general has a presentation titled "The Problem of Terrorism in Indonesia" ready for viewing in an adjoining conference room.

Prominently featured is the Indonesian vice president, Hamzah Haz, saying, "I guarantee there are no terrorists in Indonesia," juxtaposed with portraits of the Islamic militants who have been arrested in the 14 months since the Bali attack.

Hendropriyono -- widely known in Indonesia as "Hendro" -- says he feels less alone today, now that his political colleagues can no longer deny that terrorism is a problem for Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

He has in fact become an important component in Indonesia of the US campaign against terror and has helped Jakarta arrest scores of militants from Jemaah Islamiyah, the homegrown terror organization responsible for the Bali attack and for another attack on the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in July that killed 12 people.

Beyond satisfying the demands of the Americans themselves, it is no easy job being a crucial ally of the US in a region where US policy has generated deep resentment. One of Hendropriyono's colleagues, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, in a speech before the US ambassador, said this week that America's "arbitrary" war in Iraq had made the world more dangerous.

That may be more true for Indonesia than some other places. While Hendropriyono is convinced that terrorists here are now on the run, that only makes the hunt harder, he says.

"Jemaah Islamiyaah is no longer intact," the general said, "so their communication is limited. So it is difficult to trace individuals one by one."

His most wanted man, Jemaah Islamiyah's chief bomb-maker, Azahari Husin, recently slipped through the fingers of the Indonesian police. The general said that Azahari had been isolated and knew that he could no longer conduct reconnaissance of prospective target sites.

While most spymasters are reluctant to talk about their work, the general is not above trying to build a higher profile for himself in the rivalry between the police and his intelligence agency as they compete for credit. He is also keen to demonstrate that the intelligence agency, which has a reputation for wielding a strong hand at home, is today a less secretive, more modern outfit.

He agreed to an interview to coincide with the publication of Intel: Inside Indonesia's Intelligence Service, an account of the service's history since its founding 50 years ago. The book was written by an American expert, Kevin Conboy and published by Equinox, an English language press in Jakarta.

Born in central Java in 1945, Hendropriyono followed in his father's footsteps and chose a military career. As a special forces officer, he received training in Australia.

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