by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
October 14, 2002
JAKARTA, Oct. 13, 2002 -- Three bomb blasts that killed 216 people, most of them foreign tourists in Bali, were a wake-up call for many Indonesians who may have been slow to recognize that terrorists pose a real and deadly threat in the world's largest Muslim country.
In an impromptu press conference on Sunday held in her Jakarta residence, President Megawati Sukarnoputri called the Bali bomb blast "an act of terrorism," saying that she was going to fly to Bali to direct emergency operations herself.
Her top security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the cabinet had asked some ministries, law enforcement agencies as well as the Bali provincial government to coordinate in evacuating victims, investigating the bombings, and preparing medical treatments.
"I also asked Hendropriyono to give a temporary conclusion, within 24 hours, to reveal the possible bombers. I know it is difficult but it's only a temporary deduction," he said, referring to his colleague, A.M. Hendropriyono, who heads Indonesia's National Intelligence Agency.
"I don't want to hear any more comment that says the government was making up stories that terrorism is here in Indonesia. I want to underline that terrorism is real right here in front of our eyes," Yudhoyono said.
Indonesian officials, including Vice President Hamzah Haz, have in the past denied that Muslim militants linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network are active in their country. Authorities in Malaysia and Singapore said that members of a regional group known as Jemaah Islamiyah - which is allegedly seeking to set up Islamic states in Southeast Asia - are based in Indonesia.
Singapore has been pressing Indonesia to arrest Jemaah Islamiyah's spiritual leader, Abubakar Ba'asyir, who lives in Solo, around 400 kilometers east of Jakarta. But Indonesian officials say they have no evidence against him. (See accompanying story.)
A.M. Hendropriyono and his men apparently had a different approach. He was under fire for cooperating with American secret agents in handing over two foreigners, a Pakistani and a Kuwaiti arrested in Indonesia allegedly linked to al-Qaida, and for helping Philippine police in arresting two Indonesian nationals allegedly involved in terror bombings there.
Meanwhile, American ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce condemns the acts of terrorism. "No cause or aspiration justifies the taking of innocent life," Boyce said. He added that his government had offered all appropriate assistance to Indonesia to see that "those responsible for this cowardly act face justice."
"This is the worst act of terror in Indonesia's history," said Indonesian police chief Da'i Bachtiar, adding that he is going to lead the investigation himself.
Bali is Indonesia's premier resort island. Bali itself has remained quiet although ethnic and religious violence as well as terror bombings have wracked Indonesia since the overthrow of dictator Suharto in May 1998. Bali is a predominantly Hindu area.
The two blasts in Bali came just hours after a small handmade bomb exploded in front of the Philippine consulate in the city of Manado, the capital of northern Sulawesi. A little bit similar to Bali, northern Sulawesi is also a quiet area whose dominant population is Christian.
It is still a question whether the Indonesian government will arrest Ba'asyir. He himself challenged the government last week to prove the widespread allegations against him. "It is up to the Indonesian government, police and people to also defend Islam, or to choose to defend America," he said.
Fauzan al-Anshari, an aide to Ba'asyir and a leader at Ba'asyir's Mujahidin Council for Islamic Law, said that the council is not involved in the bombing. "It's impossible for the Mujahidins to do that as they don't even have a single bullet, moreover a bomb." (See accompanying story.)
Al-Anshari said civilians in Indonesia are prohibited from owning arms, theorizing that the bombing is an effort to pit the Hindus in Bali and the Christians in Manado against the Muslims who enjoy a 90 percent majority in Indonesia.
"We know that terrorism is blamed on the Muslims. Now they created these scenarios," he said.
Many Jakarta television and radio stations broadcast stories about the bombings around the clock Sunday.
Franz Magnis-Suseno, a Catholic priest and a professor at Jakarta's Driyarkara School of Philosophy, said in an interview with Indonesian radio station RCTI that the government should engage in a war against terrorism.
"Indonesia always pretends there're none here. These bombings show that we really have terrorists," the priest said. Catholic churches have been the object of a large number of bombings and other terrorist activity in the past two years.
Saturday bombs are likely to be a huge blow to Bali's lucrative tourism industry, and might also undermine the Indonesian government efforts to revive the economy. Many Balinese voiced their anger toward the bombing as it is a real threat to their livelihoods.
Many "pecalang" or Balinese militias, clad in batik and white headhand, set up checkpoints around the island in a bid to prevent the alleged bombers escape from Bali.
Andreas Harsono, a Nieman International Fellow at Harvard in 2000, has been the American Reporter's Indonesia Correspondent since 1995.