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Jemaah Islamiyah Has Extensive Network in Indonesia, Experts Say - 2002-12-11

A new report suggests that the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah may be spread through Southeast Asia more extensively than previously thought. The report also says that while the militants used to target Christians in Indonesia, the October 12 bombing in Bali suggests that Westerners may be their new targets.

The International Crisis Group says it is more convinced that Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, has an extensive network in Indonesia.

"I think the center of it is still in Malaysia - and I think the top leaders, to the extent that there is a leadership, I think that's in Malaysia as well," said Sidney Jones, a researcher with the ICG's Jakarta office. "But I think there is more of an organization, more of a structure than I was willing to believe about two months ago."

Ms. Jones says that is partly because of her examination of past bombings in Indonesia - especially several attacks on Christmas Eve 2000. At least 19 people died in attacks at several Christian churches. She says the bombings were the work of JI.

Previously, authorities thought the bombings were the work of Muslim groups attacking Christians because of the years of communal conflict in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi and Maluku provinces.

The ICG released its findings Wednesday in a new report.

JI has roots in Malaysia, where many Indonesian Islamic leaders fled to avoid persecution by the government of former President Suharto.

Ms. Jones says that when many of the exiles returned to Indonesia after the Suharto government fell in 1998, Indonesia's own religious fighting fueled their extremism. "The Ambon conflict in Maluku and the Poso conflict in Sulawesi also served to heighten the determination to defend the faithful against onslaughts by the West and by Christians," she said. Washington says JI is a terrorist group linked to the al-Qaida network. The United Nations and the European Union have put the group on their lists of terrorist organizations. Singapore and Malaysia say they have foiled JI plots to attack Western embassies and other targets in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia has been less certain about the group's presence. Some officials say it exists in the country and others insist it does not.

Since the October 12 bomb attack in Bali, Ms. Jones says it appears JI has shifted from attacking Indonesian Christians to targeting Westerners. Nearly 200 people died when two bombs rocked a crowded Bali tourist district on October 12. Most of the victims were foreign tourists.

Indonesian authorities have arrested a number of suspects in the Bali blast they say are linked to JI. But they have yet to officially declare the incident a JI plot.

Ms. Jones says JI may be shifting its aims partly because of the U.S.- led war on terror. She says many hard-line Muslims fear the West "has an agenda" to get rid of Islam.