- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 19, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Thursday’s fatal hotel bombings in Jakarta, Indonesia, were a jarring reminder that the war on terrorism is ongoing and the battlefield is global.

The multiple near-simultaneous suicide strikes are a hallmark of al Qaeda, and the attacks have been blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, a longtime Indonesian affiliate of Osama bin Laden’s organization.

Analysts often note that Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country, but it also is one of the most liberal and least enamored of the al Qaeda siren song. A poll of global Muslim public opinion by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, released in February, shows that bin Laden’s approval rating in the country is 14 percent. This is certainly larger than in most Western countries, but it is small compared to the 56 percent approval rating the terror mastermind enjoys among Palestinians.

According to the survey, Indonesia had the smallest percentage of Muslims saying that Shariah law should play a greater role in society (27 percent) and the largest percentage saying it should play a smaller role (23 percent). This is not fertile ground for the extremist message.

Indonesia suffered a major wave of terror attacks that started in the mid-1990s, peaked in 2001 and has been in decline since. Indonesia has been very effective in taking the fight to the terrorists, both through military action and public-education programs. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a strong ally of the United States, a former military officer who has trained in this country and has a clear sense of both the threat and the means to counter it.

Groups like Jemaah Islamiyah are still able to pull off spectacular terror attacks on an annual basis. The most spectacular was the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 and injured about 300, many of them Australians. These types of attacks on tourist targets also demonstrate the dysfunctional nature of terrorism. They are intended to harm the tourist industry and undermine the local economy, but the primary strategic impact of the Bali bombings was that Australia was convinced of the necessity to be a full partner in the war on terrorism.

The same could be said of the November 2005 hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan. Those attacks on civilians decisively turned Jordanian public opinion against al Qaeda. They also destroyed the tribal support network of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed less than a year later after he became increasingly isolated and had fewer hiding places open to him. We understand from Jordanian intelligence sources that Jordan was instrumental in helping the United States hunt down and kill Zarqawi in June 2006.

Repeated attacks of this nature in Indonesia have not moved that country any closer to realizing the Islamic utopia envisaged by the violent radicals. It would seem that terrorists eventually would come to realize that randomly killing innocent people is not an effective means of popularizing a political movement or cause. But for precisely that reason, these attacks demonstrate that the terrorists are driven by irrational motives and believe a failed strategy may succeed one day if they just keep killing.

The Jakarta bombings are a painful reminder that the United States and other countries cannot relax. The struggle against violent extremism continues.

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