The bombing at a luxury hotel in
Jakarta has underscored the enormous difficulties in protecting a population
from terrorist acts. It also confirms the difficulties governments in Southeast
Asia face in fighting terrorism.
After a bombing on the resort island of Bali killed 202 people last year, Indonesian
authorities pledged to increase security and crack down on terrorism.
But terrorists were still able to set off a powerful bomb Tuesday at a prestigious
American hotel in the heart of the Indonesian capital. The blast at the J.W.
Marriott hotel killed at least 10 people and injured dozens.
David Wright-Neville, a former senior terrorism advisor in the Australian
government, said there are just too many easy targets in Indonesia, and across
Southeast Asia, to protect them all. "I think that there is such a proliferation
of potential targets - whether they be nightclubs or bars, or whether they
be hotels or buildings that house Western companies, or even those sort of
buildings that are representative of the secular governments of these countries,
be they parliaments or police stations or whatever - I simply think it's a
lot to ask of the authorities in these countries in Southeast Asia to mount
the kind of security necessary to make these places safe 24 hours a day," Mr.
Indonesian authorities blame the Bali attack on Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional
network of Islamic radicals with links to the worldwide al-Qaida terrorist
organization. More than 30 people have been arrested in connection with the
Although the Indonesian police have not yet said who they think is responsible
for Tuesday's attack in Jakarta, officials have noted there are similarities
to the Bali attack.
Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert and author of the book Inside al-Qaida,
said Jemaah Islamiyah is the only group in the region with the expertise to pull
off the hotel attack. He said it appears to be linked to the coming verdicts
in the first trials of Bali bombing suspects.
"The timing of the attack is very significant with regard to the developments
in Indonesia, where the trials of the Bali suspects are coming to a conclusion.
And the sentencing of Amrozi will take place Thursday, who is a significant
player in the Bali bombing," Mr. Gunaratna said. Indonesian authorities had
tightened security at key points after the Bali attack. Reports said police
had discovered a document last month that listed the Marriott hotel in Jakarta
as a possible terrorist target. "Certainly the Indonesian authorities knew
they were planning an operation in Jakarta," Mr. Gunaratna said.
The Indonesian police said they had increased security around the hotel before
the attack. But Mr. Wright-Neville, now at the Global Terrorism Research Unit
at Monash University, said security resources may have already been strained
to the limit. Impoverished Indonesia struggles just to pay its police and military
forces, and the additional security costs since the October Bali attack have
been an burden.
"It's possible that the Indonesian authorities thought that this might have
been disinformation. Or it's possible that their resources were simply so stretched
that they couldn't put the security needed on all the places that were mentioned
as a possible attack," he explained.
The problem is common in much of the region. In the Philippines, where communist
insurgents and at least two Islamic militant groups have been responsible for
bombings and attacks on civilian areas, police are often outgunned. It does
not help that both Indonesia and the Philippines are vast archipelagos, with
remote islands, and thick, mountainous jungles where terrorists can hide.
In Indonesia, authorities are bracing for more trouble. Many terrorism experts
think that harsh sentences against the Bali bombing suspects - such as the
death penalty or life imprisonment - could spark additional attacks from angry