- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Indonesian officials in Bali interrogated two men yesterday about the car bombing Saturday of a nightclub frequented by Westerners amid international criticism that the government had not done enough to curb Islamic fundamentalist threats.
No group had claimed responsibility for the blast, although speculation was rife that militant Islamic groups with past ties to al Qaeda were behind the attack, which killed almost 200 people. U.S. and other international investigators have traveled to the Bali resort of Kuta to help in the investigation.
With Indonesia under increasing international pressure to combat terrorism, a violent Muslim group with ties to Indonesia's military disbanded the first apparent sign the government was getting serious about moving against Islamic extremism.
The announcement by the group, Laskar Jihad, came as the accused spiritual leader of another extremist group linked to the al Qaeda terror network said he would submit to police questioning.
U.S. officials said yesterday that two Americans were confirmed dead and that perhaps as many as five other Americans had perished. Australians and Britons figured heavily among the dead, and nationals of two dozen nations are among the casualties.
Indonesian National Police Chief Da'i Bachtiar said yesterday that traces of the military plastic explosive C-4, used in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, had been found.
The nightclub bombing was the latest in a string of attacks this month bearing the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, prompting some foreign leaders to question whether the post-September 11 war on terrorism was suffering in the Bush administration's push to confront Iraq.
President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and their top advisers have been quick to dismiss any suggestion that Iraq has proved a distraction in the war on terror.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday, told reporters, "We're going after those responsible for what happened in Bali, those who are responsible for 9/11 and those regimes that are supporting terrorists and developing weapons of mass destruction.
"The nexus between developing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorist activities is focused in Iraq, and that's why I think Iraq is very much a part of this overall campaign."
Mr. Blair echoed Mr. Powell's argument in an address to the House of Commons in London yesterday, saying al Qaeda and Iraq must be attacked simultaneously lest they "come together in some horrific way."
But Charles Kennedy, head of Britain's center-left Liberal Democratic Party, was one of several members of Parliament who challenged Mr. Blair, citing a fresh round of attacks linked to al Qaeda.
"We should not let Iraq detract from the wider effort to combat terrorism," he said.
The Bali bombing came close on the heels of a suspected terrorist attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen and a drive-by shooting that killed a U.S. Marine during military exercises in Kuwait.
The London Independent, in an editorial yesterday, complained that "nothing has undermined the collective war on terrorism more than the way in which the Bush administration has caused it to mutate before our eyes into preparations for an old-style U.S.-led war on Iraq."
Also voicing skepticism was Warren Bass, senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy and Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
"The doubts aren't that the U.S. government can't walk and chew gum at the same time," Mr. Bass said, "but that there are only so many hours in a president's day and right now they are all being spent on Iraq."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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