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Experts: Anti-Terrorism Efforts in Southeast Asia Have Improved, Despite Latest Bali Bombing


Security experts in Southeast Asia believe that despite setbacks like the latest bombing on Bali, the region has achieved a great deal in recent years in the fight against terrorism.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the Bali bombings the following year, countries in Southeast Asia have stepped up their anti-terrorism efforts. Last Saturday's new bombings on Bali, however, raise the question of whether they have done enough.

Regional security experts say there have been widespread improvements in internal and border security, as well as an increase in regional cooperation among governments and security forces.

Since the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, Southeast Asian authorities have arrested and imprisoned hundreds of suspected Islamic militants, including several key leaders with ties to the terrorist organizations al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah, or J.I. More than 30 J.I. members connected to the 2002 Bali bombings have been tried, convicted, and in several cases, sentenced to death.

More than a dozen have been arrested for their role in the bombing of the Jakarta Marriott hotel in August 2003.

Security consultant Mike Horner with the firm Control Risk Group in Singapore thinks these achievements are not getting enough credit.

"We do not often hear of the successes that governments have against terrorist groups because they are nipped in the bud before they occur - that is not widely publicized," said Mike Horner. "Unfortunately, the ones we hear about are the successful terrorist attacks like the one in Bali on Saturday."

Mr. Horner believes that the reason terrorists have chosen so-called soft targets, like the beach restaurants that were bombed in Bali, is in part a response to the tightened security around embassies, schools, shopping malls and government buildings.

Terrorism experts also think the small backpack bombs used Saturday indicate that militants no longer have the capacity to build and deploy large bombs - like the explosive-packed van used in Bali three years ago.

Other experts and leaders say that while increased anti-terrorism efforts have scored successes, more needs to be done to eradicate groups like J.I., which is suspected in Saturday's bombings.

Rohan Gunaratna is a terrorism expert at Nanyang University's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore. He thinks that regional governments - particularly Indonesian leaders - are not doing enough to fight terrorism.

"The Indonesian government has not designated Jemaah Islamiyah as a terrorist group," said Rohan Gunaratna. "Jemaah Islamiyah is a legal organization. It is perfectly legal to distribute propaganda, to recruit, to raise money."

Southeast Asia suffers from certain problems that make stamping out terrorism difficult. One problem, experts say, is the increasingly diffuse and decentralized nature of regional militant groups.

That, of course, is partly the result of the crackdowns of the past few years. With many leaders and operatives already jailed or being hunted, it is difficult for militants to form large cells. Smaller groups, operating independently from any known leadership, are harder to find.

Also, the vast and porous marine borders of many Southeast Asian countries make it difficult to track and control the movement of individuals or groups between countries.