Accessibility links

Breaking News

On Anniversary of Bali Bombing, JI Terrorist Group Still Dangerous


Five years ago, explosions tore through two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, killing 202 people. The blasts put a terrorist group called Jemaah Islamiyah on the map. But they also put it squarely in the sights of the Indonesian government. More than 400 arrests later, analysts say Jemaah Islamiyah is now a much weaker organization. But they warn it could still come back. Trish Anderton reports from Jakarta.

Ever since the bombs went off at Paddy's Pub and the Sari Club, Jemaah Islamiyah has been on the run. Indonesian authorities have arrested many key figures in the organization, often known as JI They captured its alleged military leader, Abu Dujana, in June. Sidney Jones, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, says the police crackdown has forced the group to reconsider its tactics.

"I think there's a realization that the bombings undertaken mostly by a splinter group of JI damaged the organization - through arrests, through surveillance and through reputation, so the focus seems to be on rebuilding," she said.

Jones estimates Jemaah Islamiyah still has about 1,000 members. She believes that, five years from now, the organization will still exist, but it's not clear what form it might take.

"Either we could see JI turn into something more akin to a social organization with a radical ideology but not necessarily any outlet for those energies, or if we continue to see large numbers of Muslims being killed in the Middle East, in some conflict, that would help provide additional fuel for the fire," she said.

Jones says other conflicts that could re-energize Jemaah Islamiyah include the sectarian unrest in southern Thailand, and any development that could be seen as threatening to Muslims in Indonesia.

Zachary Abuza of Simmons College in Boston has written extensively about Jemaah Islamiyah. He agrees the group is keeping a low profile these days. But he worries it is borrowing a technique from the Palestinian militant organization Hamas - improving its public image and luring new members through social outreach.

"They've been given a lot of political space to set up front companies or publishing houses or charities or social welfare organizations and that's what they're throwing themselves into," he said. "They're simply lying low, because they're not getting arrested. It's allowing them to regroup, it's allowing them to go out and build up [a] base of popular support."

The Bali bombing anniversary is being marked by ceremonies in Bali and in Australia, which lost more citizens in the attack than any other country. Among those attending the Australian gathering will be Geoff Thwaites, whose son Robert was killed.

"You have longer periods where you're not hurting, you have deeper depressions when you are hurting, and much deeper feelings about the folks that are trying to cause us pain," he said.

Thwaites says he supports the death sentences handed down to three of the Bali bombers, who are scheduled to be executed in the coming weeks. But he doesn't blame or fear Indonesians as a whole. He spends a lot of his time in Indonesia now, running a foundation he established in his son's name to help victims of terrorism and disasters. Currently, the organization is building houses in parts of Indonesia's Aceh province devastated by the 2004 tsunami.