Bali Attack Aftermath
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MARGARET WARNER: Joining me now is the Australian ambassador to the United States, Michael Thawley.
Welcome, Mr. Ambassador, and first please accept our condolences on a loss of Australian life.
MICHAEL THAWLEY, Ambassador, Australia: Thank you very much, Margaret. I appreciate that.
MARGARET WARNER: What can you — your prime minister has warned your people that to expect more casualties. What is the latest information you have about the number of victims’ bodies still unidentified there?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: We still have I think something like 160 bodies to identify, the figures you gave at beginning of your report are accurate and obviously we are expecting there will be a larger number of Australians who will be identified over the coming days. Unfortunately, a lot of these bodies are very badly burned and it’s taking sometime to identify people.
MARGARET WARNER: You have Australian forensic specialists there trying to help with the identification?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: We have a large number of Australian federal police working on that scene, and a number of forensic experts working on the identification of the dead bodies.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, U.S. and Australian officials including your prime minister have talked about this Asian Islamic group, Jemmah Islamiyah — hope I say that correctly — as a likely perpetrator but as you just heard the spiritual leader of the group said they had absolutely no involvement. What is the evidence?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: Well, I can’t speak confidently about the evidence but what I can say is there are reasons to be, to suspect that there is some connection between Jemmah Islamiyah and this incident. We have just started the investigations jointly with the Indonesians in the past day or so and I think we have to wait and see what the evidence produces in order to make a determination of that. But certainly there, we have reasons to believe that Jemmah Islamiyah has connection with this.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the reasons that have been cited here have been nor general in nature, that this group has both the means and the motive and the sort of ideological motive to do this, but without, I understand you are unwillingness to be specific about what you have — but is there any specific information or etched that has been turned up in the investigation that leads to you this conclusion, beyond the just sort of general suspicion that they are a likely perpetrator?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: I’m not close enough to the investigations to give you an answer to that question.
MARGARET WARNER: Then does the same apply in terms of the links between al-Qaida and Jemmah Islamiyah ? How tight are those links from your understanding?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: What we do from the past is there are people who are connected both with Jemmah Islamiyah and al-Qaida in terms of a connection with a specific incident I don’t have any hard information about that.
MARGARET WARNER: Now of course American and Australian and British investigators are on the scene, but my understanding is that the Indonesians are running the investigation. How confident is your government in the Indonesian law enforcement’s both ability and willingness to really follow this trail where it leads and get to the bottom of this?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: Well, we are a good deal more confident since our foreign minister was able to agree with the justice minister in Jakarta their counterparts that this would be a joint investigation shared jointly by the Australian and Indonesian police forces. We have something like 45 Australian federal police and representatives from our state police forces actually working with the Indonesians. We are very confident with the Indonesian who has been appointed to, in charge of their side of the operations and the last report I had was that we are very pleased with the access and the work that is going on at the site of the attack.
MARGARET WARNER: So what you are saying now it really is a joint investigation.
MICHAEL THAWLEY: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: What kind of — we heard a little colloquy in your parliament about the kind of warnings that the Australian government had received. And there have been a lot of different reports about this. What can you tell us about the level and specificity of the warnings that the Australian government had from intelligence sources about the dangers to Australian targets in Indonesia?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: Well, we have had broad warnings for sometime about the risk of attacks on foreigners. And as a result of those warnings, we have had consular warnings advising Australians and other foreigners about travel to Indonesia.
I think there is some over-interpretation the prime minister’s remarks in the last report. We have no intelligence that would have, that warned of this attack against Australians in Bali. And I might add that we have very close intelligence partnership with the United States and we are very confident about how is that working and about the U.S. intelligence agencies and their liaison with Australia.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me turn it around if I might. The State Department travel advisory — and you go to their Web site. If you go back and look what was there before this, while there were a lot of warnings about being cautious about traveling to many parts of Indonesia, Bali in fact seemed almost to be given an exception, it said tourist destination of Bali has been largely free of disturbance. To date, tourists have not been the target of any group in Bali. Did the Australian government think perhaps Bali was in fact an exception, that it was a safer place than the rest of Indonesia?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: Well, Australian tourists and foreign tourists have always been very welcome in Bali and we did, we had no warning that Bali was likely to be a particular area of concern. And for that reason, there was no specific identification of Bali as a special place to avoid. Had we had that sort of warning obviously we would have done absolutely everything we could to keep people away.
MARGARET WARNER: We saw your foreign minister with President Megawati today talking about the new law. And as we just heard, he said he was pleased if that happened. I’m wondering how confident your government is that in fact given its apparent track record the Indonesian government’s that in fact Indonesian government has the political will to crack down on terrorist groups operating there?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: Well, we have obviously been concerned in the past that the Indonesian government hasn’t recognized fully the extent of the threat to their country and to people in their country. But I think this incident, this terrible slaughter in Bali has really brought home to them the risks for themselves as well as for people visiting Indonesia.
And I think that this indication that the president of Indonesia is going to issue a decree providing for regulations to take action against terrorism is a very encouraging thing. We obviously want to work very closely with Indonesia to insure they follow through. The follow through is the important issue.
MARGARET WARNER: Talk to us about the impact of this on ordinary Australians. Has this been sort of the September 11th for Australians?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: I think that is a good way to put it I think Australians have been absolutely devastated by this attack. These were young people, holidaying in Bali, a place that is well known and very well liked by Australians. At any one time there are fifteen to twenty thousand Australians in Bali and to see young people slaughtered in this way of course is just a ghastly thing.
It’s particularly awful as Americans will appreciate from their own experiences after the 11th of September attacks for those families who don’t know whether their children have been caught up in this or not, and so I think the hearts of most Australians are mostly with those families, while they wait what must seem an interminable time to hear the results of the identification of these bodies.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you believe these young people were targeted because they were Australians, not just because they were westerners but specifically because they were Australians and, if so, why?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: It’s difficult to say that. I think certainly that nightclub was targeted because it was a favorite place for tourists and westerners to go to. And anyone who was, who knew that club would have known that it was a favorite place for Australians so they would have known that a large number of Australians were going to be affected.
MARGARET WARNER: We have had e-mail, we actually have a lot of viewers in Australia suggesting that they believe Australians were targeted, one, because of the role you played in East Timor, also because of your support for the United States and the war on terrorism. Does your government feel that way?
MICHAEL THAWLEY: I think we ought to start by saying there is absolutely no moral justification for this sort of indiscriminate slaughter. I would like to make two points about that, one is you don’t purchase immunity from this sort of terrorism by hiding away and pretending it’s not going to happen. Let’s for start in this particular incident — Balinese, many Balinese who have been killed. They have no engagement in these activities.
The second thing is that it’s a morally bankrupt position to take to say that if we hide away from this, we cut ourselves off. We don’t do anything about evil. We keep quiet about evil. We do nothing about evil, then we are going to be spared. And anyone who knows anything about our history will know that is not a position that Australians would ever accept.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Michael Thawley, thank you so much.
MICHAEL THAWLEY: Thank you.