Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Southeast Asia's largest terrorist
organization has been disrupted, but still presents a major threat. Mr. Downer
spoke at a counter-terrorism conference in Bali that was also addressed by U.S.
Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The Australian foreign minister said that Southeast Asia remains a "front
line" in the fight against terrorism, and said further terrorist attacks in
the region are "inevitable."
Speaking to counter-terrorism delegates from 25 countries, Mr. Downer said
regional police forces had arrested more than 200 members of the terror group
Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI. But he said the organization, which has links to al
Qaeda, is still functioning. "We haven't disabled it," he said. "Key operatives
are still at large and JI remains highly resilient and committed to its cause."
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said militants were spreading their activities
across international borders to lessen the likelihood of detection, and said
this increases the need for regional cooperation. "This puts a real premium
on our cooperation, puts a real premium on working together, because preparations
in one arena may literally be the vital link toward devastation which is inflicted
in another arena," said Mr. Ashcroft.
Indonesia and Australia have agreed to set up a joint counter-terrorism centre
in Indonesia, a move Mr. Ashcroft said would give a further boost to the anti-terror
war. Although the United States will not have a direct role in the new centre,
Mr. Ashcroft said Washington was eager to share its experience and learn from
the experience of others.
Indonesia, which has suffered two major terrorist bombings and several minor
attacks in recent years, has had notable success in hunting down and convicting
But Mr. Downer warned that despite this success, Jemaah Islamiyah and other
militant groups are still adding new members. He said JI will present a threat
to Indonesia and the region in general for some time to come. "It's planning
for the long term, retraining and recruiting young men as the next generation
of [terrorist] leaders," he said.
Participants in the two-day closed conference say representatives of Malaysia
and Brunei told delegates that, although law enforcement elements were vital
to the war on terror, the war can never be won until there is peace in the
They reportedly said the continuing bloodshed in that region was putting
a powerful tool into the hands of terrorist organizations seeking new recruits.