- The bomb blasts that killed more than 180 people in Bali
have focused international attention on links between Indonesia's radical
Islamist groups and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. But among Indonesians,
a conspiracy theory has been gaining popular currency -- one that puts
the blame on the United States. RFE/RL examines why some Indonesians are
alleging that U.S. agents may have carried out the Bali attack.
- Prague, 17 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Before the bomb blasts
that killed more than 180 people on the island of Bali last weekend, authorities
in Jakarta were reluctant to admit possible links between Islamic groups
in Indonesia and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
- After the Bali attack, Indonesian Defense Minister Matori
Abdul Djalil took the unprecedented step of announcing that there are,
indeed, active Al-Qaeda cells in his country: "I am not afraid to
say, though many have refused to say, that an Al-Qaeda network really exists
- But other Indonesian officials, like parliamentary speaker
Amien Rais and Vice President Hamzah Haz, say it is still too early to
blame the blast on either Al-Qaeda or any radical Indonesian group.
- Haz has been telling Indonesians he thinks outside powers
were involved. And his deputies have suggested publicly that U.S. intelligence
agents had both the ability and the motive to carry out such an attack.
- Those remarks reflect a conspiratorial theory that seems
preposterous to most Westerners but is gaining widespread currency among
Indonesians -- the allegation that U.S. agents may have been responsible
for last weekend's Bali bombings.
- Sidney Jones, the Jakarta-based director of the International
Crisis Group's Indonesia project, has written for "The New York Times"
about the reaction of ordinary Indonesians to the Bali blast. In an interview
with RFE/RL, she describes the anti-American sentiments many Indonesians
share: "The theory that is widely current in Indonesia today is that
the United States was behind the Bali bombing, that its motive in mounting
the attack was to gain the sympathy of countries that had, hitherto, been
reluctant to join in the war on terrorism and therefore support the American
plan to bomb Iraq. [According to this theory, Washington] would use the
blast in Bali as a way to infiltrate intelligence officers into Indonesia
under the guise of helping with the investigation, and those individuals
would be the beachhead for a larger presence of U.S. troops."
- Jones says those alleging U.S. responsibility for the
Bali bombings are not restricted to Indonesia's radical Islamic fringe.
She says most expressing the view are associated with mainstream Muslim
parties on the center-right of the political spectrum.
- Suggestions of U.S. involvement also have appeared in
the commentaries of major Indonesian newspapers and the idea has been debated
on television and radio talk shows.
- Jones says the popularity of the view reflects deep-seated
resentment against the United States: "The U.S. is seen as having
put extreme pressure on the Indonesian government to go after Muslim targets.
And that has been resented not just by the extremist Muslim groups in Indonesia,
but also by people who have a very strong sense of nationalism and national
identity -- and don't want to see Indonesia pushed around by the United
- In particular, Jones says the policies of the Bush administration
since the attacks of 11 September have angered ordinary citizens of Indonesia
-- the country with the world's largest Muslim population: "There
has been very, very deep concern over U.S. policy in the Middle East. That
has manifested itself repeatedly in articles across the Muslim media [sector].
What the United States has done in Afghanistan and the southern Philippines
with the troop presence there, with the proposed war on Iraq and certainly,
above all, in the Middle East, is seen as turning the war against terror
into a war against Islam."
- But Jones notes that strong anti-American sentiment in
Indonesia dates back to before the country's economic crisis of 1997: "This
idea that the United States is out to hurt Indonesia has been around for
a while. The loss of East Timor [as a part of Indonesia] is another issue
that is often attributed to international pressure led by the United States
and Australia. And it goes back even further than that. But it fits into
a thought pattern that we have seen over and over during the last five
or six years. And that feeling increased following the economic crisis
in Indonesia in 1997, which again, some people blamed on U.S. intervention
and U.S. pressure."
- Jones says many Indonesians are angered by those who
continue to blame the country's problems on outside forces: "There
are many people in Indonesia who are appalled by the fact that this view
[of a U.S. conspiracy in the Bali bombings] has gained such currency --
people within Megawati's party and within some of the opposition parties.
In fact, Megawati's leading political rivals have all denounced this notion
as being completely counterproductive. Many of these people include academics,
members of the educated elite, and so on. But some members of the educated
elite, in fact, subscribe to this view [of a U.S. conspiracy]."
- Political analysts agree that the Bali blasts have put
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in a difficult position. Now
more than ever, Megawati must balance her need for U.S. support against
popular Muslim sentiments at home.
- David Claridge, the managing director of the London-based
firm Janusian Security Risk Management, discussed Megawati's difficult
position today at an antiterrorism conference in Singapore: "Her predicament
is fairly clear. She is relying to some extent on Muslim groups who feel
themselves to be within a broad spectrum that is unsympathetic to the U.S.
position on Iraq, unsympathetic to the U.S. position on Israel, unsympathetic
to the U.S. position in terms of a war on terrorism. So she has to balance
up pressure that comes to her from the U.S. and from the broader international
community to tackle these groups while maintaining her popular support
at home. That's a very difficult position to be in. At this moment in time,
there seems little choice but to aggressively pursue these groups because
to fail to do so would lead to further attacks of the sort that we saw
in Bali on 12 October."
- Meanwhile, there is a growing controversy in Washington,
London, and Canberra over whether more could have been done to prevent
the Bali attack -- or at least give travelers more of a warning about the
threat of terrorist attacks against resorts like Bali.
- In their defense, U.S. intelligence officials note that
the CIA issued a warning to the Indonesian and Australian governments in
September about a potential terrorist threat to Bali and other tourist
resorts in Southeast Asia.
- But the U.S. State Department took no special precautionary
measures beyond issuing a general caution against travel to Indonesia.
And neither the Indonesian nor Australian authorities passed the CIA's
specific warning about Bali on to tourists.
- That has angered many of the Western tourists who survived
the bomb blasts. Among them is Australian tourist Robyn Quick, who returned
to her homeland yesterday from Bali. "The American government knew.
The Indonesian government knew. And our [Australian] government knew. And
they did not tell us."
- Australian Prime Minister John Howard said today that
he has ordered a review of all material received by Australia's intelligence
services about terrorist threats in Indonesia before the attack on Bali.
- Howard has admitted that Australia received recent U.S.
intelligence identifying Bali as a possible target, but did not change
its advice to Australian tourists: "Look. I have indicated they have
made a bona fide assessment according to their judgment, according to the
intelligence information available. If you look at the various travel advisories,
the Australian one did talk about bombs having gone off and warned of the
possibility in the future and did associate that with areas frequented
by tourists. It is always possible after a terrible event to say that maybe
we could have done this and could have done that. But these assessments
are done in good faith and in the absence of anything that could be construed
as a specific warning about the bombing that did occur."
- Western leaders have voiced suspicions that the attack
was planned by Al-Qaeda -- possibly together with an Islamic group that
is active in the region called Jemaah Islamiyah.
- Indonesia's coordinating minister for political and security
affairs has named the elderly Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir as one
of the leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah. The minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,
says legal action would be taken against Bashir if the investigation shows
that he or his followers were involved. Bashir has denied involvement in
- Indonesian authorities say they have detained at least
seven Indonesians and one foreign national, reportedly from the Middle
East, for questioning.
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