Jakarta blasts show Jemaah Islamiyah still a threat
Twin hotel bombings that killed eight people in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta Friday are evidence that the country’s main terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, is viable and still may be benefiting from support from al Qaeda, a U.S. counterterrorism official said.
The suicide bombers who attacked the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotels also injured more than 50 people, according to Indonesian law enforcement. At the Marriott, investigators found evidence that the bombs were assembled by terrorists posing as guests who checked in earlier and put together the devices in their rooms.
The attacks were the first of their kind since September 2004, when Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) targeted the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, killing 10 and wounding hundreds.
While U.S. officials could not say for sure that JI was responsible, “in that part of the world they rise to the top of the list of suspects,” said a U.S. counterterrorism official. “They have a long history of attacking people in the region. The hotels are symbolic, and the attacks reflect their long-held hostility toward the Indonesian government, the U.S. government and its allies.”
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the nature of his work, said the hotels were obvious targets because they are owned by Western chains and frequented by foreigners. The Marriott was bombed by JI in 2003.
Scott Atran, an expert on Islamic terrorism who teaches at the University of Michigan, said Friday’s attacks bore the hallmarks of a JI splinter group led by Malaysian-born Noordin Mohammad Top.
A former accountant, Noordin was implicated by Australian forensic experts in both the 2003 Marriott and the 2004 Australian Embassy attacks.
“The bombings today in Jakarta smell to me like Noordin Top’s network,” Mr. Atran said, citing the choice of the Marriott for the second time and the use of suicide bombers.
Noordin built the JI splinter group around his personal relationships.
Mr. Atran doubted there was any “formal JI involvement” by Abu Bakr Ba’asyir, JI’s purported spiritual leader, and others of the old JI command.
Ba’asyir was imprisoned on charges stemming from the Bali attacks in 2002 but later was acquitted.
The counterterrorism official, meanwhile, said that authorities were “looking into” the possibility that al Qaeda helped plan the latest bombings.
No Americans were killed in Friday’s incidents although several were reported to have suffered minor injuries.