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Bali blasts: A regional initiative

By B Raman
October 02, 2005 00:52 IST
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At the time of writing this, at least 22 persons, some of them foreign tourists, were killed and about 50 others injured on Saturday in two (some reports say four) explosions, possibly simultaneous, in  a night club and a restaurant, frequented by tourists, in the resort island of Bali, where the majority of residents are either Hindus or of Hindu origin.

This is the second terrorist strike in the island since 9/11. In the earlier blast on October 12, 2002, 202 persons were killed, most of them Australians.

The Jemaah Islamiyah, a jihadi terrorist organisation reportedly closely aligned with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, was found responsible for the terrorist strike of 2002.

Indonesia has identified some of its leaders and members and awarded them various sentences.

Subsequently, there were two explosions in Indonesia-- both in capital Jakarta-- in 2003 and 2004. The explosion of 2003 was outside the Marriott hotel that killed 11 people.

A suicide bombing outside the Australian Embassy in September 2004 killed eight people.

In the absence of further details, one should not over-assess the gravity and significance of the latest explosions in Bali. There are two ways of looking at it.

The first is that the terrorists were able to carry out the explosions despite heightened vigilance since the earlier explosions in 2002.

The other way is that it has taken the terrorists almost three years to plan and carry out another explosion in Bali and this does not indicate that they are as strong as they are made out to be.

There is so far no evidence to suggest that suicide bombers were involved.

The indications till now are that timers or remote-controlled devices most probably triggered the explosions.

The fact that one of the improvised explosive devices was kept by the side of a cooking gas cylinder would have added to the lethality of its impact.

The explosions seem to have been the result of a local or a regional initiative. There still is no evidence to show that the directions for the explosions might have come from the leadership of the al Qaeda, based near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

No organisation-- not even the JI-- has so far claimed responsibility for the explosions. If it was the work of the JI, it is unlikely it would claim responsibility. Also, even if any claim for responsibility is made in the coming days on behalf of the al Qaeda, it need not necessarily mean that the al Qaeda had a hand it.

The statements, which had emanated from the al Qaeda leadership in 2002 and 2003, inter alia, had reflected considerable anger against Australia.

Since early 2004, verbal attacks on Australia have been rare. Since the beginning of 2005, the al Qaeda's anger has been mainly directed at the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany.

There was also a reference to India in a statement attributed to the Taliban, after the visit of our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to the US in July. There have been no expressions of anger against Indonesia.

The explosions seem to have targeted Western tourists in general, without specifically targeting Australians. The terrorists would have known of the likely impact on the tourist economy, but hitting at the tourist economy does not appear to have been their primary motive. Their motive seems to have been to demonstrate that they are still alive and active.

B Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also a Distinguished Fellow, International Terrorism Watch Programme, Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

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B Raman