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Southeast  Asian Terror Group Planning New Attacks , Experts Warn - 2004-08-05

A year after the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah exploded a car bomb outside the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, terror experts across the region are warning that the militants, although weakened by arrests and disagreement, are planning new attacks.

A year ago Thursday, suicide bomber Asmar Latin Sani drove a car packed with a fertilizer bomb into the forecourt of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in the Indonesian capital, and detonated his charge. Twelve people died, 11 of them Indonesians.

That was the last major attack by Jemaah Islamiyah, the al Qaida-affiliated militant organization that was also responsible for the Bali bombing in 2002, and has been implicated in several bombings in the Philippines. Analysts say JI is a much weaker group than before: it has been decimated by arrests in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia, and there was a split over tactics within the group after the Marriott bombing.

Experts on JI say some members were upset by the number of Indonesian casualties in Jakarta and want to pursue a more peaceful plan, while hard-liners accepted the deaths as an unavoidable consequence of war and have vowed to continue their campaign of violence.

Despite the arrests and disagreements, experts around the region are warning that the group can be expected to strike again. Singapore's Home Affairs Minister, Wong Kan Seng, said Thursday that JI is starting to recover from the blows inflicted by law enforcement over the past several years.

Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group and a leading authority on JI, says the threat from the organization remains very real.

"Indonesia has done a good job, it's done a far better job than the Philippines - and I think that as a result of all the effort that has been undertaken, it's a more secure place than it was at the time of the Marriott bombing, but again that doesn't mean you can't have another attack," Ms. Jones said.

She points out that some of the most dangerous members, including the bombmaking mastermind Azhari Husin, are still at large, and she says people in the region have to take the threat of terrorism into account in their daily lives.

"I think you just have to accept the fact that the possibility of an attack, big or small, has got to be part of the way we think of our lives in Southeast Asia now," she said.

Authorities have expressed fear that JI may be planning attacks to disrupt Indonesia's runoff presidential election in September. Whether the fears are justified is not known, but across the region, people remain nervous.