A woman breaks down in tears at Bali a hospital Sunday after identifying a relative among the victims from a bombing the night before.
Jewel Samad  /  AFP - Getty Images
A woman breaks down in tears at Bali a hospital Sunday after identifying a relative among the victims from a bombing the night before.
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/4/2005 3:18:03 AM ET 2005-10-04T07:18:03

Suspicion in the explosions on Saturday that killed at least 22 people and injured over 100 in the popular Indonesian resort island of Bali has turned to Jemaah Islamiyah, a shadowy militant group with ties to al-Qaida.

NBC News’ Ned Colt discusses the investigation into the recent blasts (which follow an even more deadly attack in 2002), the strength of Islamic militant groups in Indonesia and the likely negative effect the latest attacks will have on Bali's biggest industry, tourism.

Colt, an NBC News correspondent currently based in London, covered the 2002 Bali bombings for NBC News and spent eight years as NBC's Far East correspondent based in Hong Kong. 

Why has suspicion immediately pointed to the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group in Indonesia in the most recent attacks there?
This attack has all the hallmarks of Jemaah Islamiyah, known as JI as to those who follow the group closely. It is the same group that has links to the 2002 nightclub bombings.

In this case, suicide bombers carrying waist packs or wearing vests loaded with explosives — we don’t know for certain which — may have been detonated simultaneously by mobile phones. That is somewhat similar to what we experienced in 2002 when more than 200 people were killed in another string of bombings quite similar to this.

What’s curious is that there apparently hasn’t been the crackdown on terrorists that was promised by the government of Indonesia two presidents ago. Megawati Sukarnoputri, the former president, promised to crack down on suspected militants.

There had been some work to make sure that Islamic religious schools were not cultivating radical fundamentalism, but that may still be going on. We are hearing that some are still open and creating martyrs for the cause. But, it’s not surprising that in the world’s largest Islamic nation there are those willing to die for the cause.

What’s most disturbing about latest attack in Indonesia is that this has been allowed to happen again.

Remember that it wasn’t just the Bali bombings that we’ve seen in Indonesia. We’ve seen attempted attacks against Western diplomatic targets — the U.S. embassy, the Australian embassy. In the recent past, the attacks have not been very serious in terms of the loss of life, but clearly they were targeted. The Marriott hotel in Jakarta was also targeted a couple of years back, and a number of people were killed as well. So, it’s been an ongoing problem in Indonesia.

For the long term it’s going to really hurt tourism in Bali, which was so badly damaged by the bombings of 2002. This attack, coming almost three years later to the day since that attack, is going to have a chilling effect on what is really is the lifeblood of Bali.

This has clearly been an ongoing problem in Indonesia, but the attacks by Islamic fundamentalists in Indonesia seemed to have been on the wane since the Bali bombings in 2002. What does the latest attack say about the strength of the insurgents?
They’ve been able to show — as terrorist groups are fond of saying worldwide — that they can hit targets anywhere, at anytime.

As a matter of fact, there were warnings about this over the past month — that Indonesia should be on the watch for terrorist attacks — but they were able to do this without any trouble whatsoever.

You said earlier that there hasn’t been a massive crackdown. So what has the government done to stop the spread of fundamentalism there?
They’ve put laws into place which really didn’t even exist prior to 2002 that target bombers and give police a lot more rights in terms of tracking down would-be terrorists.

But the economy in Indonesia, which is still recovering from the 1997 economic meltdown in Asia, doesn't really mean there is a lot of money to go into the high-tech job of trying to stop terrorism.

The Indonesians been dependent to some extent on Australia — many of those who visit Indonesia are from neighboring Australia. So, the Australian police have been involved quite often in helping out the Indonesians in these investigations.

But the relations between Indonesia and Australia are not exactly warm, so that’s been a bit of an issue. There is a certain amount of national pride in Indonesia involved in these investigations. They would like to think that they can undertake these investigations, and make progress on their own.

In some of the tsunami-affected areas, such as Banda Aceh, there was a strong separatist movement there. Is there any connection between the devastation wrecked by the tsunami and the strength of the Islamic fundamentalists? Or is there any connection between the separatist groups and the fundamentalists at all?
I would not say that the tsunami affected the strength of terrorism.

The tsunami hit northern Indonesia, in the Banda Aceh region on the island of Sumatra. There were rebels in Banda Aceh who had been agitating for more than a decade, at times violently, for independence from Indonesia. But, in the past year, since the tsunami, there have been agreements made with the rebels and a partial withdrawal of troops, as part of that agreement by the government of Indonesia. So, that situation seems to have been defused to a large part.

The rebels of Banda Aceh were much more keen on having autonomy or an independent state. They were really not targeting foreigners necessarily. They were certainly not tied to Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been active both in Jakarta and Bali.

You mentioned tourism, how badly do you think this latest attack will affect the tourist industry in Bali?
I think it will have a worse effect on the tourism industry than in 2002. That attack was viewed by many as being a one-time incident.

Granted, it had a horrific effect — with more than 200 killed and hundreds injured — but this incident showed that it can happen again, in the same place, same time, under the same circumstances. 

It’s sad because it’s an island that really appeals to tourists and the people have good relations, by and large, with the hundreds of thousands who visit every year.

What kind of progress has been made in the investigation?
It does seem that the Indonesian police have learned a lot from the recent spate of attacks over the last three years.

Already they have been out interviewing survivors of the attacks in hospitals. We’ve seen pictures of them sifting through sand on the beach where one of the attacks took place.

The police have also handed out photographs of the three heads of the individuals who are believed to have carried out these suicide bombs. The heads are in remarkably good shape so that they can get a sense of who these individuals were, and identification should be possible. Those are going to be a good lead for police.

They also have very chilling home video that was shot of an individual walking inside one of the restaurants, with what appears to be a large waist belt, and then an explosion went off. So, that video should provide some evidence in trying to track down who is tied to these attacks. 

As I said, they are looking closely at Jemaah Islamiyah, which is a very active but very shadowy group with links to al-Qaida. They are very open about their goal of trying to create an Islamic state in South East Asia that would take up parts of the southern Philippines and parts of Malaysia as well as Indonesia, so creating an Islamic caliphate, if you will, in South East Asia. 

Ned Colt is an NBC News Correspondent currently based in London. He covered the 2002 Bali bombings for NBC News and spent eight years as the NBC News Correspondent based in Hong Kong. 


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