JI weakened by arrests, but could rebound: analysts

JAKARTA, June 16, 2007 (AFP) – Indonesia’s capture of the leader and military boss of Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah has dealt the network a major blow but it still has the ability to bounce back, analysts say.

Indonesia’s anti-terror police announced Friday they were holding in custody Zarkasi, an Indonesian-born veteran of the Afghan conflict, who coolly admitted on a video aired by police that he had headed JI since 2004.

Two days earlier, police revealed they had captured the extremist group’s military chief Abu Dujana, another Afghan veteran, in raids earlier this month on the island of Java. Zarkasi, 45, was caught just hours later.

Bantarto Bandoro, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said despite the netting of the pair, JI members would continue to pursue their goal of creating a regional pan-Islamic state.

The arrests "will disrupt JI’s development for sure, but they won’t stop their activities as long as their objective is not yet achieved," he told AFP.

"In the long term, they will try to find new methods (of operation) so their network won’t be easily detected."

The shadowy organisation has been blamed for a string of atrocities in the region, including the 2002 bombings on the resort island of Bali, which left 202 people dead.

Indonesia has been criticised for failing to outlaw JI, a move politically difficult in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, while its court system is widely seen as being open to corruption.

Al-Qaeda and terror expert Rohan Gunaratna noted: "The military wing of JI, and JI as an organisation, has suffered very significantly with the detention of these two individuals."

But he said the group "should have been proscribed, put on a blacklist and criminalised, in order to build a societal norm against support for JI."

"The ideology of JI is still intact and JI remains a legal organisation in Indonesia."

Gunaratna bestowed praise on Detachment 88, the anti-terror unit named for the 88 Australians killed in the 2002 Bali attacks, for its work in tracking down Zarkasi and Dujana.

But he cautioned: "Indonesia must improve both the legislative and judicial systems if the fight against terrorism is to be successful."

In a report last month, the International Crisis Group said JI was probably comprised of more than 900 members across Indonesia and was likely not growing, though it retains deep roots and its vision of creating an Islamic state.

Detachment 88 chief Surya Dharma said Friday that JI members, though failing to launch any serious attacks since October 2005, had been "building a network by recruitment, training and stockpiling weapons and ready-to-use bombs."

Sidney Jones, director of the Southeast Asian chapter of the ICG, agreed that JI retained a capacity to rebuild despite the arrests of Zarkasi and Dujana.

"JI is a large organisation and has many cells throughout Indonesia — as far as we know, now only in Indonesia — but I have every confidence that the organisation itself is going to survive, even though its capacity to undertake its operations has probably been crippled," she told AFP.

Like Gunaratna, Jones noted that the police had done an excellent job but other institutions in Indonesia needed to pull their weight to effectively reduce militant activity.

"The problem is the next two steps — the courts and the prisons. If the Indonesian judicial system and prison system were nearly as competent as the police, we’d be in really good shape."

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