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Indonesia's Top Cop Credited with Cracking Bali Bombing Case - 2003-10-09

Amid the rubble of the Bali bombings of October 2002, one ray of hope emerged for Indonesia. General I Made Mangku Pastika, the chief investigator into the bombings, may have become the catalyst for changing the perception of Indonesia as a nation of corruption and inefficiency.

Indonesia's government had long ignored evidence of a mounting Islamic terrorist threat. Then came the horrific October 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, which killed 202 people.

Under pressure to find those responsible for the attack, President Megawati Sukarnoputri turned to I Made Mangku Pastika, 51, a general in the national police department, who had established a reputation for fairness in his investigations into murders and corruption all over Indonesia.

Known for his no-nonsense approach and readiness to follow a criminal trail no matter where it leads, Indonesia's top cop had his work cut out for him. Despite a wave of criticism at the beginning of his investigation, Mr. Pastika's team solved a crime many felt was too politically risky to tackle, and brought some justice on behalf of all those who lost friends and family.

Within weeks, loose strings in the investigations slowly came together. It became clear that Jemaah Islamiyah, an organization linked to the international terrorist network al-Qaida, planned and carried out the attacks.

Sidney Jones, a veteran Indonesia expert who has been critical of the police force in the past, says there has been a widespread distrust of the institution, which has been ridden with corruption, burdened with poor funding and saddled with a reputation for brutality and incompetence.

In the face of all of this, she says she is impressed by Mr. Pastika's success.

"I think he did a superb job. I think the people who succeeded him had a wonderful precedent to follow and I think that set both the style and the pace of the investigation in a way that has led to what I think is has been an extremely professional and credible job in rounding up JI suspects," she said.

James Van Zorge is a political risk consultant based in Indonesia. He says despite early denial of the presence of terrorism in Indonesia in the aftermath of the Bali bombings, Indonesian police inched quickly toward the upper echelons of Jemaah Islamiyah.

"And they did so, in large part, thanks to Made Pastika," he noted. "His work and his capabilities show that he was very capable of moving the ball down the court."

Within weeks of beginning the Bali probe, Mr. Pastika's team made a major breakthrough with the arrest of Amrozi, a 40-year-old mechanic who allegedly confessed to buying and transporting the explosives to Bali. One year later, Indonesian courts have convicted Amrozi and the three other key terrorists. And more than a dozen others have been sentenced. All this despite Bali not having any idea how to start such a wide-scale investigation, much less possess the tools to begin.

Boy Salamuddin is head of detectives in the Bali command. He said the investigative team did not know how to process a crime scene properly and, as a result, many areas where key evidence was buried became contaminated.

"The crime scene had become unclear. It became difficult for the investigator to take fingerprints, to take evidence and other things," he explained.

Mr. Salamuddin says Mr. Pastika was key in opening up the probe to expert agents from the US FBI, Britain's Scotland Yard, and the Australian Federal Police - which helped uncover the evidence needed track down the suspects.

And being open to that type of cooperation, Mr. Salamuddin says, is what could help elevate Mr. Pastika to a bigger role in battling terrorism in the future.

"It is my hope that he will be appointed head of the international police [In Indonesia]," he said.

But some analysts say that is unlikely considering Mr. Pastika is a devout Hindu in nation dominated by Muslims. What's more, they say, is his reputation as an honest cop is so widely known that he may have to pay the price for his upfront approach during a 28-year career. After all, they say, this is an institution with a long history of blocking leaders who have pushed for reform.

Analyst Sidney Jones agrees the police force has a long way to go even with Mr. Pastika's efforts to make the institution more credible.

"I think that there's no question but that the image of the police has improved … dramatically since the Bali investigation started, but I also think that the image was so bad that there is a long way to go. And, I think, in some ways the people in Indonesia more generally can still see it both ways," she said. "They can see the professional jobs done on the investigations but the police they encounter on a day-to-day basis - demanding bribes, being brutal toward people for misdemeanors, engaging in all sorts of nefarious activities is what their basic view of the police is what they are going to be based on." Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in the West are pinning their hopes on Mr. Pastika. As investigations in the region continue, analysts say time will tell whether Indonesia's top cop will prove to be a player in the global fight on terrorism.