By Ross B. Taylor
Next month Australia will pause to commemorate the 12th Anniversary of the first of the Bali bombings that occurred on 12th October 2002. In one terrifying night 202 innocent people died including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians.
Since that time the Australian Federal Police have built a strong and lasting coalition with the Indonesian National Police (POLRI) that has seen most of the Bali bombers either executed or sentenced to extended periods in jail.
The Jemaaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group has, as a result of the police activities against them, fractured into smaller less organised cells that eventually saw the creation of a new group, under the direction of the radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, called Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) in 2006.
Bashir and a number of his followers remain in jail for their involvement in the Bali bombings and JI has continued to be an ineffective force since those bombings, although they are now in the process of reforming despite being vilified by the more militant groups as having abandoned the jihad. JAT continues to promote the ideal of a ‘Caliphate’ such as that promoted by the Islamic State.
With over 860,000 Australians now holidaying in Bali every year, the increased conflict in the Middle East and more recently, Australia’s decision to move beyond providing humanitarian assistance, and follow the US into military action in Iraq, raises the possibility of an increased terrorist risk in Bali. Or does it?
Bali is certainly much safer than in 2002. Police vigilance is far greater and overall security is much tighter. The governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, also knows that with his island, and its people, so dependent on tourism, it is critical to maintain a high level of safety and security at all times.
The other positive news for Australians heading to Bali, is that the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims (who ironically are mostly Sunni Muslims) abhor the Islamic State army, declaring that IS does not represent the true meaning of Islam in anyway. And the Indonesian Government continues to work closely with its regional allies, including Australia, in sharing intelligence and embracing international policing support.
If an increased terrorist threat exists in Bali – or greater Indonesia for that matter – it probably will come from a group mostly unknown to Westerners, called Mujahidin Indonesia Timor or MIT.
MIT is based in Poso, Sulawesi and is made up of members of various factions including JAT and a former group called Darul Islam (DI) who operated in Western Java and Southern Sumatra.
MIT is a strong supporter of IS and its followers, lead by the Islamic preacher, Aman Abdurrahman, are fanatics who are hell bent on converting Indonesia, and the region, into an Islamic state. A number of MIT followers are now fighting in Syria, and probably Iraq.
According to Dr Sidney Jones, our region’s foremost terrorist expert and a member of the Indonesia Institute, most of the MIT members are fanatical and dangerous, but they are also poorly organised and lacking in the training required to undertake a major terror attack.
As Dr Jones points out, the last three suicide terror missions carried out by MIT members within Indonesia have resulted in blowing-up only the bomber himself.
What worries Indonesian authorities and terror experts however, is that when the MIT fighters in the Middle East decide to return home to Indonesia, there is a distinct possibility that they will bring with them newly found skills in fighting terror campaigns, bomb making and detonating capabilities.
With MIT keen to demonstrate to their IS brothers that the creation of a Caliphate can become a reality, combined with the recently learned military skills to undertake a terrorist attack, the stakes will be become higher.
Meanwhile, for those Australians heading off to Bali for holidays, some common sense precautions should be mandatory, including still having a great time whilst avoiding high profile places that are seen by terrorist groups as epitomising ‘western decadence’ such as late night bars and clubs.
Australians can still feel comfortable in sharing a cold Bintang beer whilst watching the famous Bali sunsets, but should avoid drunken or offensive behaviour and remember that when overseas we don’t always enjoy the same legal and medical services to which we are accustomed here in Australia.
Respect and courteous behaviour goes a long way in Indonesia; including Bali.
In the short term, there always remains the possibility of a ‘lone wolf’ terror attack in Bali, but this could happen anywhere in the World. There is no current evidence that IS has actually established itself in our region, and therefore the possibility of a major terrorist attack would, for now, represent a major challenge for any local terrorist group.
If however, a number of the IS fighters currently obtaining ‘on-the-ground’ training in Iraq and Syria, decide to return home to Indonesia in the future, and bring with them newly-found terrorist skills, then we may have a very different issue on our hands.
Ross B. Taylor AM is President of the Indonesia Insitute.