Asian Jihadis to Fight Without Bin Laden: Analysts

JAKARTA

Southeast Asian terror networks appear to believe the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces in Pakistan is the equivalent of a bloody nose, rather than a body blow, to their jihadist cause.

“If the news is true, we should all be happy,” read the reaction to the news on an Indonesian website run by a convicted terrorist accomplice known as the “Prince of Jihad.”

“It was his dream to die as a martyr in the way of Allah,” it continued. “Muslims need not worry. With or without Sheikh Osama, jihad will continue and God-willing, other Sheikh Osamas will emerge to replace him.”

Southeast Asia jihadist movements such as Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines have cooperated with and been inspired by Al-Qaeda, but their aims and means are independent, experts said.

Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, the moderate Nahdlatul Ulama, which claims 60 million members, said bin Laden’s demise “won’t automatically eradicate radicalism from the earth.”

“We have to be continuously vigilant as radicalism has existed for a long time and it will always remain. Our consistent commitment to act against radicalism must not fade,” he said.

The region’s best-known Al-Qaeda-linked groups, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Abu Sayyaf, have murdered hundreds of people across Southeast Asia since well before the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

In the worst atrocity, more than 200 people, mainly Westerners, were killed in 2002 when JI bombers set off their homemade devices at packed tourist nightspots on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Classified US documents recently released by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks reveal that Indonesian JI militant Hambali, now in Guantanamo Bay, “facilitated money, personnel and supplies to Al-Qaeda and JI terrorist operations”.

They said he spent three days with bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1996, was involved in Al-Qaeda’s anthrax programme and facilitated plots and attacks in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Cambodia.

Another top Indonesian JI militant accused of masterminding the Bali bombings, Umar Patek, was arrested last month in Abbottabad, the same Pakistani town where bin Laden was found hiding in a massive walled compound.

But while some of Al-Qaeda’s links to Southeast Asia were deep and long-lasting, analysts say bin Laden’s global network never controlled regional outfits and his death would not hamper their operations.

“I think there are limited implications for Indonesia because Al-Qaeda has lost its foothold in Southeast Asia,” regional security analyst Adam Dolnik, of the University of Wollongong in Australia, said.

“Bin Laden himself hasn’t played much of a role for a number of years. Al-Qaeda has separated from Jemaah Islamiyah which has separated from the actual people who go about the terrorist attacks on the ground.

“There are so many degrees of separation.”

An April report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said the terror threat facing Indonesia was no longer in the form of large, Al-Qaeda-linked networks such as JI but small, independent groups.

A suicide attack at a mosque in an Indonesian police station last month fits a pattern of “individual jihad” aimed at local targets by small groups of extremists, it said.

A trend was emerging that favoured targeted killings — particularly police and religious minorities — over indiscriminate bombings, local over foreign targets and small group action over more hierarchical organisations.

“Information about these groups is only available because their members were caught. This raises the question of how many similar small groups… exist across Indonesia,” the report said.

University of Indonesia security analyst Andi Widjajanto said bin Laden’s death might even galvanise Southeast Asian militants into action.

“Osama’s death doesn’t mean their struggle will end because Al-Qaeda’s power is not centralised on its leader but on its jihadist ideology,” he said.

Another University of Indonesia analyst, Sri Yunanto, said Southeast Asian militants did not even need Al-Qaeda as an ideological inspiration.

“In terms of ideology, there are many other independent extremist movements which existed here well before bin Laden,” he said.

“Terrorism and religious extremism will continue to thrive here.”

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