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Terror in Indonesia

August 7, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: The motorcycle mechanic known widely as Amrozi chanted “God is greatest” in a Jakarta courtroom today, just before being sentenced to death for helping to plan and execute last fall’s Bali bomb attack. The pair of nightclub car bombings on the Indonesian resort island killed 202 people, mostly Australian and other foreign tourists.

During his trial, Amrozi became known as the “Smiling Bomber.” Here’s his reaction to the sentence.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): We sentence the defendant, Amrozi Bin Nurhasyim, to death. ( Cheers )

RAY SUAREZ: Amrozi has said he would embrace being a martyr. But the reaction from victims’ families and one survivor of the blast was mixed.

NATHALIE JUNIARDI, Wife of Bali Victim: I can’t wait for the day that he is actually killed. I mean, he killed my husband and so many other people that they deserve death.

ERIK DE HAART, Bali Survivor: I really didn’t want the death sentence. I’d like the bastard to be tucked in a nice, deep, dark jail somewhere and held there for the rest of his life, to suffer in the same way that all those people who lost children have suffered.

JESSIC O’GRADY, Bali Survivor: To know that something’s being done about it and it’s not just being pushed to the side, knowing that justice has been done and the people who have done this to us have been caught and…

JENNY RECORD, Sister of Bali Victim: I’ve tried to turn my face away. I can’t actually bear to look at him. I find it so distressing. We live with a huge loss, and we’ll never ever get over it.

RAY SUAREZ: Elsewhere in Jakarta, the probe into Tuesday’s attack at a Marriott Hotel continued. Investigators, who issued a sketch of the suspect, have found several similarities to Bali.

Both were car bombs at places frequented by westerners. Both involved an explosive mixture of TNT and potassium chlorate. And both are suspected to be the work of a shadowy extremist group known as Jemaah Islamiyah. It has reported links to al-Qaida, but that’s subject to much debate.

What is known is Jemaah Islamiyah seeks an Islamic state throughout southeast Asia, including Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country of 200 million people. Jemaah Islamiyah’s members are said to include Amrozi and several of the Bali suspects, and investigators say its leader is a fiery cleric known as Abu Bakar Bashir.

ABU BAKAR BASHIR, Alleged Leader, Jemaah Islamiyah (Translated): My message to Americans is to warn their arrogant government: The current American president is the worst American president ever. The actions of the American government at the moment may bring harm to the American people.

RAY SUAREZ: A month after Bali, an audio tape said to be from Osama bin Laden praised that attack. Around the same time, the government of Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, which had been widely criticized for being soft on terror, arrested Amrozi as part of an aggressive roundup of more than 30 suspects.

Two of them are Amrozi’s brothers. One, known as Muklas, said in his trial that he knows bin Laden very well. Despite the arrests and trials, authorities say key leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah are still at large.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on today’s verdict and terrorism in Indonesia, we get three views. Robert Gelbard was U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia during the Clinton administration. Hashim Djalal has served as Indonesia’s ambassador to Germany and Canada. He now teaches international law and international politics at the National Defense College in Jakarta. And Jeffrey Winters is an associate professor of political economy at Northwestern University specializing in Southeast Asia. He just returned from a trip to Indonesia.

And Professor Winters, why don’t you get us started. What’s your reaction to this verdict — its severity and the quick and expeditious way it was arrived at?

JEFFREY WINTERS: Well, it’s a bright light in an otherwise dark situation for Indonesia’s judicial system. For the most part, the judicial system is dysfunctional, and the fact that the trials, the investigations and now finally all the way through to a verdict it was done very, very well, I think. And it also shows that this time the government of Megawati Sukarnoputri didn’t blink.

So it’s very likely that this bombing in Jakarta was intended as an act of intimidation. And I think the Indonesians are to be saluted for the kind of investigation they conducted and the fact that this legal proceeding, which really stands apart from all other legal proceedings in the country, which go badly, went very well.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Gelbard, do you agree?

ROBERT GELBARD: I certainly agree with Professor Winters. Indonesia took a long time in recognizing that there was a serious terrorism problem that had begun to develop over the last years of the Suharto regime, which ended in 1998. We spent a great deal of time during my time as ambassador trying to convince the Indonesian government to take action against them. It took, sadly, the Bali bombings to wake up the Indonesian government and the Indonesian populace, just as it took September 11 to wake up the American people to a very large degree. But now I have to say they are acting with determination, and with purposeness.

RAY SUAREZ: And Ambassador Djalal, what should outsiders, who were waiting for a sign of Indonesia’s commitment to the war on terrorism, conclude from seeing how this trial has been handled so far?

HASHIM DJALAL: I think Indonesia, after reformation is struggling very hard to begin with the rule of law in the country, with the supremacy of the law. And the case of this terrorist in Bali has been pursuing through this kind of legalistic mechanism. And I think it has brought into its logical conclusion.

So whatever the decision of the court, I think it’s the decision that has to be upheld because it has followed the rule of law to its very logical conclusion. And I think the outside world should appreciate that, should encourage Indonesia to continue to follow the rule of law and to follow the… to seek these criminals, wherever they are, and punish them as the law dictates. That’s what I think should be done.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the trials of other charged coconspirators in the Bali bombing haven’t yet reached the verdict stage, but should the government be worried about a backlash among the population?

HASHIM DJALAL: Yes, backlash will always be there. But I think if one has to establish the rule of law, they must go on with the rule of law, whatever backlash, you can’t be afraid of the backlash, I suppose, yeah. It is the risk that is worth taking.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Winters, has the new government or the recent government of Indonesia of Megawati, had to sort of calibrate its response to Islam as a force in Indonesian politics? Doesn’t Megawati herself come from sort of a different strain of national politics, the fight for independence and a sort of secular nonaligned world strain of national politics that wasn’t necessarily ready to deal with Islam?

JEFFREY WINTERS: Yeah, Indonesian politics is evolving very rapidly on this score. When Megawati was first campaigning for the presidency, she was very, very weak on the Islamic issue. In fact, the fact that she was a female was opposed by Muslim clerics in Indonesia, and she has moved very gingerly on the Muslim issue.

I would say, though, and this connects to the comment a moment ago about a potential backlash, I would say that the Bali bombing and then the public attention that the trials have gotten and now finally, this explosion at the Marriott, I think there’s a turn of the tide there or a turn of perception. That is, I think fundamentalist Muslims, orthodox Muslims who had played the Muslim card politically are in retreat now.

I think Megawati doesn’t need to fear as much a backlash from Muslims. We haven’t seen hundreds, if not thousands of Muslims in the street as we’ve seen in the past when a sensitive Muslim issue has arisen. So I get the feeling that now, and I was just there a few days ago, that Indonesians are tired of explosions going on in the midst of their capitals, in their tourist islands and so on. So I think she really has an opening now to be more aggressive on challenging some of these cells and organizations.

RAY SUAREZ: Yet, Mr. Ambassador, it’s said that Jemaah Islamiyah had a free ride for quite a long time, was able to burrow into schools and into rural areas and get a network going with almost no oversight at all.

ROBERT GELBARD: It’s important to understand that during the 32 years of the Suharto regime, one of the most important principles that that dictatorship followed was trying to use the army to keep Islam under control. The result, particularly as a worldwide Islamic revolution was taking place, was that a tremendous amount of resentment began to build.

With the war in Afghanistan, many Indonesians went to Afghanistan to fight as Mujahideen. Others began to flee to Malaysia such as Abu Bakar Bashir, the purported head of Jemaah Islamiyah. And there began to be a sense that they were, as they called themselves, a repressed majority. So they had a chance during the period of almost a decade to burrow in, to radicalize others and to say that they were struggling to maintain their religion against those who would try to oppress them.

But I would agree with Ambassador Djalal, the key issue now is not just… it is critical to have strong law enforcement capabilities developed, strong intelligence capabilities developed, but in addition, the critical macro set of issues involves building strong democratic institutions and a strong economy with two and a half million Indonesians going into the workforce every year to avoid those people from becoming frustrated and alienated and then radicalized.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, certainly it can’t have been any help to the economy to scare away hundreds of thousands of people who might have visited the country. With the bombing at the J. W. Marriott just the other day, with the bombing in Bali that took many more lives, was this a bad season in Indonesia? Were there hotels that were empty? Were there people who were being laid off and made unemployed?

HASHIM DJALAL: Well, it is of course regrettable. No one liked this happening, you know, that this bombing and so forth. But I think outsiders, and we in Indonesia are struggling very hard there not to make it an issue of religion. Indonesian leaders keep telling the world, keep telling the Indonesian people that there is nothing religious about terrorism.

The Indonesian Muslim leaders are making that statement all the time. They condemn this act of terrorism. I have attended several meetings in Indonesia where people are saying that it’s not condoned by Islam or anything like that, you know? And it is not even a conflict between Islam and Christianity or Islam and Hindu and so on.

It’s a terrorist act, and it is being condemned by every Muslim leader that I know of in Jakarta and Indonesia. Now, I think if the outside world keep telling that this is some kind of an Islamic trend and so forth, actually we are playing into their hands, that it is an Islamic issue, that it is a quarrel between Islam and other religions. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is that, yes, this kind of terrorism is not good for the country, it’s not good for investment, it’s not good for the economy. It prevents a revival of the economy and so forth. So in my view, that while we must continue to be very careful that it shall not happen again, it’s like in the united states, the September 11 thing, the whole idea is of course to top the American way of life from going on. But if you’re getting to be scared of it, they win.

That’s exactly what the terrorists are trying to do in Indonesia, also. They want to scare off, they want to scare off the Americans, they want to scare off the westerns. They want to scare off any outsiders so that the economy will continue to be in chaos and so forth. So I think it is important for us not to be… not to be playing into their hands by abandoning Indonesia or by getting scared of Indonesia and so forth.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, professor, you just heard what the ambassador said. Is Indonesia different from the September 11– 11 case because it’s got such young institutions and is trying to establish things like court and credible prosecutions and credible evidence chains that other countries take for granted but a country with a new political dispensation can’t necessarily? Is there a danger that they’re going to overdo it in the war on terrorism?

JEFFREY WINTERS: Well, one of the things that the minister of security immediately said after the Marriott bombing was– and he was sort of sending this to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Government– his message was, “you see, you lecture us a lot on human rights and yet you’ve got to give us a free hand to be able to round people up and hold them and so on.” I think one of the problems is this: The United States tends to want to react to security problems in Indonesia, terrorist problems in Indonesia, by getting closer to the Indonesian military. And this is something we have to be extremely careful about because on the one hand, the Indonesian military has been an institution that the United States has been traditionally very close to.

On the other hand, there are very murky connections between figures in the Indonesian military and some these cells, these terrorist cells and with Muslim radicals across the country. And this Indonesian military is an unreformed military, virtually no one who’s committed atrocities over the last several decades, including some of the them most recently in ache, no one has gone on trial virtually, no one is in jail.

So while on the one hand, we want to turn to the institutions of security, the police, the military and so on, it’s a complicated picture because it’s an unreformed military. And right now there’s a split between the executive branch in the united states and congress on this issue, where the pentagon wants to move forward aggressively and in reestablishing relations with the Indonesian military and congress is holding back the money and saying, “we need to see serious reforms first.” And I think congress has got it right.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, gentlemen, we’re going to stop it there. Thanks a lot for being with us.