The Indonesian island of Bali, known as the Island of the Gods, has long projected a peaceful image as an idyllic resort for international tourists. That image was shattered by Saturday’s bomb explosion that devastated a popular nightclub frequented by Westerners, killing at least 180 people and wounding hundreds of others. It was the worst terrorist attack in Indonesian history.
A combination of factors suggest that international terrorism may be entering a new phase. First, the island, a Hindu enclave in a predominantly Muslim state, has so far remained largely immune to political, religious and ethnic strife. Second, the attack was directed at a “soft” target — a pleasure spot for Western travelers. Third, but not last, it occurred while the United States was preparing for a possible war with Iraq.
The nightclub bombing, along with a second bomb blast that occurred around the same time near the island’s U.S. consular office (no casualties reported), may well be a part of a series of attacks that have occurred recently in other parts of the world, such as Kuwait and Yemen. It appears, indeed, that international terrorist groups are reconstituting themselves with their sights set on broader Western interests, not just American interests.
If the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States represented the first “front” of global terrorism, the recent assaults mark the second front, which is directed at relatively small targets in various places. There is, in fact, a sense that acts of indiscriminate terrorism are spreading around the globe. The international campaign against terror is becoming even more difficult and complex.
There have been no claims of responsibility for the Bali bombings. But some of the methods used in the blasts indicate that they are the work of an international terrorist group, not just local Islamic radicals. For example, the bomb used in the nightclub attack was reportedly made from a military plastic explosive similar to the one used in the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen two years ago.
Indonesia’s defense minister, Matori Abdul Djalil, has blamed the al-Qaeda network and a local terrorist group for the bombings. U.S. President George W. Bush has said he believes the attacks were masterminded by al-Qaeda operatives. Suspicion also falls on Jemaah Islamiya, an Indonesian group headed by Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is said to be seeking to establish a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia.
Since the Sept.-11 attack, the Bush administration has been urging the Indonesian government to take strong action against Islamic extremists. But Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has been reluctant to do so, saying there is no evidence to connect them to terrorist activities. The Bali massacre, however, leaves President Megawati Sukarnoputri with no choice but to take tough measures.
Al-Qaeda, which is linked to Jemaah Islamiya, is seen widely as the perpetrator of the Sept.-11 atrocity. Now the global terrorist network is believed to be focusing on small-scale indiscriminate acts of horror. In fact, intelligence information indicates that al-Qaeda was involved not only in the Bali incident but also in the bomb attacks in Tunisia and Pakistan, along with the sniping assaults in Kuwait, the Philippines and Afghanistan.
The U.N. Security Council on Monday passed a resolution condemning the Bali tragedy as an act of terrorism and urging nations to cooperate with the Indonesian government in the hunt for suspects. At the same time, however, the incident needs to be grasped in the broader context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. moves to disarm Iraq.
The point to remember is that the U.S.-led antiterror campaign sparked by the Sept.-11 shock has provoked anti-Americanism in much of the Islamic world, as many Muslims see that campaign as being targeted at Islam. The continuing cycle of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iraq, has further antagonized Muslims around the globe. In this sense, the bomb attack on the island of Bali can be considered a wake-up call to the U.S. and other Western nations which, in the eyes of Islamic society, continue to deal unfairly with international disputes.
If that is the case, the international community, in addition to arresting and punishing terrorists, must tackle with greater determination and perseverance the underlying problems that breed terrorism, such as regional conflict and chronic poverty. The single most important lesson from the Bali bombing is that the use of force alone cannot exterminate terrorism.
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