Indonesia Had Been Warned

Published October 13, 2002

| Associated Press

The bombings that laid waste to a nightclub and killed 188 people on the island of Bali follows months of warnings and pleadings for Indonesia to act to prevent terror attacks.

Indonesia's neighbors and terrorism experts have frequently voiced exasperation that in a region where Al Qaeda is known to be active -- and Indonesians are suspected of being ringleaders of affiliated networks -- the government in Jakarta has been slow to react.

An Indonesian politician added his voice to the chorus Sunday, claiming that rumors had swirled through Parliament for days that there could be a terror attack if the United States went to war against Iraq.

"I believe the Indonesian intelligence was warned about this," said Alvin Lie, a member of the moderate National Mandate Party. "I have no information about what they have done. I feel the Indonesian government has been too slow in acting to prevent such incidents."

Security officials in Malaysia have privately called neighboring Indonesia "a black hole" in counterterrorism where authorities failed to arrest suspects and were unable to find explosives that Al Qaeda operatives are believed to have stockpiled.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.

Last week, Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that they felt that Prime Minister Megawati Sukarnoputri's government was coming to grips with the problem.

But the United States and Indonesia's neighbors have urged Jakarta for months to pass an anti-terrorism law that has been languishing in the Parliament. Without the law, Indonesia says, security forces cannot arrest suspects without clear evidence they have committed a crime.

In Malaysia and neighboring Singapore, police have arrested scores of suspects allegedly involved with a Southeast Asian militant group, Jemaah Islamiyah, that hopes to create an Islamic state in Malaysia, the southern Philippines, and Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country.

The group, linked to Al Qaeda, was allegedly plotting last winter to launch a series of bomb attacks against the U.S., British and Australian embassies and other Western targets in Singapore.

Observers speculate they were behind Saturday's blasts.

Malaysia and Singapore are holding the suspects without trial under national security laws dating from the British colonial era.

Among those detained in Malaysia is Yazid Sufaat, who allegedly allowed two of the Sept. 11 hijackers to meet Al Qaeda operatives at his apartment in 2000.

Yazid is accused of obtaining four tons of ammonium nitrate, the same agricultural chemical used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Malaysia was able to trace the ammonium nitrate as far as the Indonesian island of Batam in January, but it has never been found.

Fears about the location of the ammonium nitrate resurfaced around the time of the Sept. 11 anniversary, when the United States closed many of its diplomatic missions in Southeast Asia. Among the threats cited were truck bombs.

Indonesia's neighbors have also pressed Jakarta to deal with Abu Bakar Bashir, a radical cleric they say is a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. Bashir, who lives freely and has sympathizers in Megawati's government, denies being involved with terrorism.

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