July 9th 2011

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Timely review of Australia's defence posture

DEFENCE I: 100th anniversary of the Royal Australian Navy

DEFENCE II: Contemplating the RAN's next 100 years

CANBERRA OBSERVED: The enduring legacy of Rudd's autocratic style

CLIMATE CHANGE: Lack of sunspots points to global cooling

WATER: Two inquiries lambast Murray-Darling Basin plan

ENERGY I: The cost of trashing base-load power generation

ENERGY II: Renewable energy drive "economically counter-productive": Spanish study

WAR ON TERROR: Terror threat undiminished after Bashir verdict

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Vietnamese clash with Beijing over South China Sea

UNITED STATES: Mitt Romney’s White House bid under attack

UNITED KINGDOM: Children now given instructions on suicide

UNITED NATIONS: Anti-Israel bias sets back women's rights

ISLAM: More examples of creeping sharia

SOCIETY: Link between teen sex and subsequent divorce

POPULATION: UN in denial over "demographic winter"

BOOK REVIEW Never far from disaster

BOOK REVIEW Counter-cultural book for our times

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Terror threat undiminished after Bashir verdict

by John Miller

News Weekly, July 9, 2011

Indonesian radical Islamist Abu Bakar Bashir has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for supporting a jihadi training camp uncovered in West Java in May this year. The verdict was handed down by a Jakarta court on June 16, 2011.

Over 3,000 police and soldiers were present during the trial in order to secure the area following a number of bomb threats. Bashir’s supporters were well represented in and around the court.

I have previously written about the significance of Bashir’s arrest in News Weekly, September 4, 2010, and have monitored the trial as it progressed.

Not for the first time, the Indonesian government, upon whose goodwill Australia depends, was caught between a rock and a hard place in staging the trial. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, and we tend to forget that it is as close to our northern shores as Cuba is to Florida.

From a counterterrorist standpoint, it would be extremely unwise to attempt to uncouple events in Indonesia from those elsewhere. Links between al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) had obviously become closer, and some press reports indicated that al Qaeda cells were operating along with JI in parts of Southeast Asia.

We should certainly examine developments in our northern neighbour with a higher priority than usual, and especially monitor JI and the new group founded by Abu Bakar Bashir, Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid or JAT (Partisans of the Oneness of God).

Abu Bakar Bashir, with his long history of anti-Western, anti-Australian activism and promotion of fundamentalist Islamic policies, is invariably described in the media as a teacher and cleric. His previous convictions and jail sentences have been short and his treatment has been fairly respectful, given his status and importance in Indonesian society.

It remains to be seen how he is treated following this conviction, especially as Indonesian jails, while places of detention and subject to attempted rehabilitation of offenders, have been described by the Jakarta press as ineffective in countering terrorist indoctrination and are also seen as a fertile recruiting ground for fundamentalists.

The English-language version of the Jakarta Globe (June 27, 2011) noted that the deputy head of the National Anti-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) made comments on recidivism among released prisoners. His comments followed hard on the heels of the shooting of police officers in Central Sulawesi. Brigadier-General Tito Kamavian acknowledged to reporters: “We have to admit that there are many weaknesses in our prison system in terms of dealing with terrorism…. Our de-radicalisation program isn’t working as fast as they can radicalise new members.”

For some years, I have maintained that taking key players off the board in counterterrorist operations is all very well, but it has a very nasty capacity to rebound. In Afghanistan, Allied strikes have exacted quite a toll on enemy forces; but, in terms of collateral damage, these slight victories are cancelled out by the radicalisation of yet more local tribes people. Western values and norms cannot be imposed on a Muslim society, and there are few signs that the locals want any part of change.

In Indonesia, the situation is not so complex because the counterterrorism forces are fighting on home soil, and the battle of ideas is being waged largely by Indonesians with little foreign interference.

The situation to our north resembles the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in one particular regard. A dispersed organisation is far more difficult to monitor, counter and control than one with a centralised leadership and vertically integrated structure.

Some armchair theorists in the United States seem to have forgotten that fundamentalist Islamic terrorist networks have long practised succession planning. In recent years, they have even met quite openly in certain countries in Southeast Asia — that is, under the noses of the local authorities — without being apprehended.

In the recent Jakarta trial, the prosecution was able to produce evidence about Bashir’s involvement in the training camp. The full weight of evidence does not appear to be publicly available, but the training camp in Aceh where Bashir was apprehended was stated by Associated Press on June 16 to have brought together men from almost every known Indonesian extremist group.

Allegations have been made that there were plans in progress to attack foreigners and to assassinate moderate Indonesian leaders, especially President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Arrested militants testified at the trial that Bashir had watched training videos and received written reports intended to assured him that the funds he had raised were being used to build an Islamic state.

Significantly, Bashir told reporters before the verdict that the trial was “a U.S. and Australian attempt to eliminate him from Indonesia”. In effect, the declaration of war on the U.S. and Australia made by this so-called cleric a decade ago remains unchanged. It is believed that plans existed to attack U.S. and Australian diplomatic and commercial premises and personnel in Indonesia and abroad.

How Bashir is treated in jail will be extremely important. He should not be accorded “guest” status and receive special privileges. To the best of their ability, the Indonesian authorities would be well-advised to ensure that his contact with outsiders is monitored and, when necessary, curtailed.

John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer. 

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