Alex Spillius

Climate of terror

Alex Spillius on how moderate Islam in Indonesia has been infiltrated by Arab-leaning extremists - with murderous consequences

Text settings


SEVERAL days after the bombs, the people of Bali, and tourists who have stayed on, are still in profound shock, still asking, 'Why here? Why us?' This was not an American embassy or military base, so why Bali? Yet in the twisted minds of the bombers an entertainment zone packed with alcohol-fuelled Westerners was the perfect target, and the warning signals that something big was being planned in south-east Asia had been flashing for months, if not years.

For some time Indonesian Islamic militias have targeted nightclubs frequented by Westerners, as well as brothels favoured by local men. Such assaults were mostly with sticks and stones. Last year militiamen of the Islamic Defenders Front bearing wooden clubs stormed into JJ's nightclub in Jakarta. They cleared the dancefloor as thumping house music continued to pound out of the speakers.

Then came much more serious incidents, with multiple fatalities: a series of church bombings in Indonesia in late 2000, blasts in the Muslim south of the Philippines, and in Manila.

Singapore has made two mass arrests of men allegedly plotting to bomb American and Western facilities. A man was jailed in the Philippines in July for possessing several tons of explosives. Malaysia has detained about 60 suspects, including men it said had communicated with Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker. South-east Asian intelligence officials declared that they had found other proof of connections with al-Qa'eda; the connections may have gone as far back as 1995. Many of those arrested were allegedly connected to Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the group being most closely connected to the Bali bombing.

Last month, Omar al Faruq, an al-Qa'eda operative detained in Indonesia, caved in to US interrogators and said that JI planned to hit American targets in Jakarta. Last week the American ambassador in the Indonesian capital briefed 40 senior envoys about the imminent danger of an attack. He also urged the Indonesian government, not for the first time, to arrest Abubakar Bashir, the alleged head of JI.

The Sari Club, reduced to a mass graveyard in seconds, was the liveliest watering hole in Kuta Beach. Paddy's Bar, diagonally across Jalan Legian, was almost as popular, and had a reputation as a pick-up joint for Western men looking for local girls. The street is lined with surfing and swimwear shops, bars, restaurants and boutiques.

As a target, the Legian strip embodied fundamentalist b