by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
January 5, 2001
IF I WAS INDONESIA'S CHRISTMAS BOMBER
JAKARTA, January 4, 2001 -- Last week, a few hours after examining a Jakarta church where a bomb in a parking lot killed three people on Christmas Eve, I returned to my home psychologically shaken, vividly recalling the face of a grieving mother whose son was among the victims.
"He is a good boy, he is a good boy," she cried. I kept remembering her face and those of neighbors, both Muslims and Christians, as they flocked to offer their love and support to the young victim's mother.
I was tired from working for more than 15 hours, but even more, I was traumatized by the blood, the fire, the horror and the damage created by the bombing. Next to my computer were scraps of paper with my notes, field reports, news summaries, paper cups and a matrix of the bombings that hit 10 Indonesian cities.
Suddenly, I found myself thinking about the mastermind of the Christmas Eve bombings that spread terror across the length and breadth of the world's fourth most populous nation. What was the mastermind doing while I, like other journalists, was wearily finishing up my story on the bombing? What would I be thinking if I was involved in the planning, the financing and the implementation of the bombs?
I found it a little scary, but I imagined myself as the terrorist mastermind whose bombs had taken more than a dozen lives.
If I was the terrorist, I think I would be watching CNN International, which made the Christmas bombing its top headline story. I would probably also be browsing the Internet and reading news reports, probably amused at the inaccuracies in Indonesian media Web sites such as koridor.com, kompas.com and detik.com. Or watching Indonesian television such as RCTI, SCTV, Indostar, just to see the footage of my destruction and hear about any late-breaking developments.
It would be important for me to monitor the media, because it is sometimes much faster than the reports of my terror operatives in cities as far away as Medan, Batam and Pekanbaru, close to Singapore, and smaller cities like Mataram, near the tourist island of Bali. The area my bombs encompassed is as great as that from New York on America's East Coast to Seattle on the West Coast.
It would also be important to know what the public was watching and what the public reads. Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, the chairman of Indonesia's Press Council, called it "the largest terror bomb" in the history of modern Indonesia. Nurcholish Madjid of the Paramadina Foundation, probably Indonesia's most important independent Muslim scholar, sobbed in front of television cameras, deploring the bombing.
In Jakarta, I would treat myself to a good meal and a few drinks. After all, the bombing was a great success. It made headlines around the world. Most of the bombs -- 38 of them, to be precise - exploded in the churches I targeted, claiming a total of 133 victims, including 14 who died. Christmas Eve was a nightmare in Indonesia.
To be frank, I'm not that happy with the number of deaths. The initial order was to minimize the dead. Indeed, it is a terror bomb and in any bombing, we have to expect the death of innocent victims. But some of my men told me that 14 deaths are relatively few. The number of victims in the bombing of the Jakarta Stock Exchange building a few months ago was 15 and that was just in a single building. On Christmas Eve, we had more than 30 churches in 10 cities packed with people.
But I think I need to make it clear that President Abdurrahman Wahid was right: The purpose of this bombing was to destabilize his already troubled government. Some observers, and Western media, are wrong when they say that part of my motive is to create a religious war in this, the world's largest Muslim country, where an estimated 90 percent of its 210 million people are followers of Islam and only about eight percent are Christians.
They are wrong. If I wanted to spark a religious war I would bomb mosques. The Christians are too few and too frightened to strike back. But bombing mosques? Only God knows how Muslims would react.
I know President Wahid personally, and I usually call him by his nickname, Gus Dur. He is not only Indonesia's first democratically-elected president but also a nice guy. But I am pretty nervous about his administration. Gus Dur is too liberal. He wants to move too fast. I am afraid that his government is not capable of handling the problems in the rebellious Indonesian provinces of Irian Jaya and Aceh or the conflict-ridden Maluku islands. Those rich provinces might secede from Indonesia if the rebellions there are not handled properly.
I also don't like the way Gus Dur allows people to condemn former President Suharto, and even threaten to bring Suharto to justice. It is not fair. Suharto did a lot for Indonesia. It was Suharto who fought poverty in this country, making it one of the emerging Asian Tigers. But don't get me wrong. I agreed that Suharto did not discipline his kids. I opposed Suharto's children because their network of businesses do harm to Indonesia. But is it fair to blame the old man alone?
I am not against the democratization process. Indonesia needs to be a democracy. But what kind of democracy? And how fast? I think the democratization process should be moderated to avoid more conflicts. A faster process -- what Gus Dur wants -- will lead to more innocent people becoming victims of the conflict among Indonesia's elite.
Meddling in military affairs is another reason. I have many friends, former ministers and army generals, who dislike Gus Dur for interfering with the appointment and promotion of our officers. Gus Dur should pay the price. Our military is very proud of its long tradition of independence, of not being interfered by power-hungry politicians.
Now I am implementing the post-bombing operation. Some cells were partly open, but we have already prepared to isolate the others. If the police arrest some of my members, it will lead them nowhere. Most of my operatives are men for hire. They do their work for money and don't know each other.
We are also ready to tamper with the evidence when it is all gathered together at one particular police headquarters in Jakarta.
Our cellular phone numbers have already been changed. Some of my top operatives have already gone into hiding, or went abroad to take a break, only returning to Indonesia when it is safe. My network is strong, financially and politically; my friends have a lot of grassroots support.
Journalists like Astraatmadja called on the media to help investigate the serial bombing. A group of informal figures and NGO activists like Nurcholish Madjid or poet-cum-journalist Goenawan Mohamadalso set up an independent team to investigate it. But I am not afraid at all.
The media in Indonesia are notorious for being corrupt and incapable of performing a serious investigation. These groups are very likely to go into the political arena and make a lot of statements, rather than undertake extensive field work. No action -- only talk.
Well, then, why don't I get some more rest and wait for the last days of Gus Dur!
Oh, my. Our poor president.
Andreas Harsono is a Jakarta-based writer and 1999-2000 Nieman International Fellow. He has written about Indonesia for AR since 1995. This article was published on January 5, 2001.