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Indonesia's Trial by Fire and the Risk of Leaderless Terrorists

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
May 22, 2011
The National


In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, many American policymakers and terrorism experts were celebrating, believing that the removal of al Qa'eda's head and spiritual leader would render the organisation far weaker. Yet others warned that, at least for now, bin Laden's death might actually make the organisation more dangerous since it will become more atomised into smaller cells bent on revenge. After the killing, the United States in fact raised its terrorism alert precisely for this reason.

The assumption makes sense. In Indonesia, where security forces have done the finest job of any developing nation in smashing a terror network's senior leadership, removing the head did not necessarily make average people safer in the short run. Instead, the decapitation of the local terror organisation Jemaah Islamiah (JI) led terror groups to spread out and launch smaller scale, more random and more frequent attacks.

In the early 2000s, JI, which aims to turn Indonesia and other parts of South East Asia into one caliphate, posed as great a threat to Indonesia as al Qa'eda does to the United States. In fact, JI launched multiple successful attacks on the Indonesian archipelago, including a series of bombings on Christmas Day in 2000, two attacks in Bali in 2002 and 2005, and a strike on the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

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