A bomb exploded 22 October in Poso, Indonesia, injuring three people including two traffic policemen.
Police attending this initial explosion site appear to be targets of a secondary bomb that killed two of the responding officers. A third device located nearby bore similar characteristics to the first two bombs but did not detonate.
The attacks in Poso occurred just days before an expected raid on an alleged terrorist camp in the mountains of Tamanjeka province. During the raid officers confiscated several live bombs, high explosive materials, bomb parts and bomb-making manuals in the raids
The group suspected of carrying out the bombings last week is known as Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT). The group is widely considered to be the forerunner of the more well-known Indonesian terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and was added to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities by the U.S. State Department in February of 2012.
Jemaah Islamiyah is the larger, more experienced, big brother organisation operating in the islands of Indonesia. They reached an activity spike in 2002 when their successful bombings in Bali killed 202 people, mostly Australian tourists.
Yet a decade later, despite their association with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda group, the Indonesian terrorists have been unable to conduct any further significant attacks against foreign citizens or interests inside or outside Indonesia.
The relatively few numbers of successful attacks by South Pacific terrorists such as JI reveal the inherent difficulties all international terrorist groups face following a concerted, decade-long disruption effort by Western governments.
The South Pacific is also speckled with difficult to reach, disparate islands in a vast archipelago spread over thousands of kilometres. Geography alone is a hugely limiting factor in the spread of transnational terrorism in the Pacific.
After the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 many governments, including Jakarta, increased pressure on such groups internally while simultaneously addressing the threat of transnational terrorism. But the lack of terrorism in the South Pacific over the past decade also reflects a broader trend amongst Islamic terrorism community, and with the overall tactic of terrorism in the modern era.
While the governments of the Western world have fed billions of dollars into fighting terrorism over the last decade, deadly attacks still slip through the expensive security nets. Some countries, Indonesia included, are simply unable to allocate many resources to fight either domestic or international terrorism, relying instead on foreign aid and counterterrorism expertise.
However, a strong economy is not a fool proof vaccine precluding rich countries from attack. Across the wide Pacific Ocean, American law enforcement often uncovers and interrupts individuals in various stages of terrorist planning.
As recently as September 15 an aspiring jihadist named Adel Daoud attempted to detonate a homemade bomb outside a Chicago bar. The device was inert and refused to explode because United States FBI agents had supplied Daoud with fake explosive material after discovering his ambitions in an online chat room.
Such “Kramer Jihadists”, so named after the bungling Seinfeld character, have been relatively common around the world since 2001. Some of these committed amateurs have succeeded in attacking their targets but government intelligence agencies are gaining competency, disrupting many conspiracies before they become operational.
The Chicago case exemplifies the shift in some terrorist tactics away from core groups such as al Qaeda towards a more grassroots, diffuse set up. Moving into this style of terrorism has lessened the likelihood for large, theatrical attacks on hardened targets but it has also increased the possibility of smaller, easier strikes on softer targets.
If these individuals meet other competent jihadist operatives instead of government officials, the potential for their conspiracies to reach fruition is still alarmingly high. Had Daoud received real explosives and blown up a crowded bar in Chicago, his amateurishness leading up to the attack would have been moot.
With the collapse in 2001 of the group led by Osama bin Laden, Islamic terrorists have struggled to inflict consistent successful attacks internationally.
The 9/11 attacks in America caused a geopolitical shift in which the United States concentrated the full weight of its resources against al Qaeda and its supporters.
What was mostly unexpected was the speed with which international terrorism was disrupted. Many of the institutions throughout the world, created to fight the international terrorists, were quickly made redundant as it became apparent the jihadist threat was not as widespread as initially assumed.
Jemaah Islamiyah was a significant terrorist organisation other Pacific countries were just waking up to after 9/11. Their motives for bombing Bali were in supposed retaliation for Australian military assistance in the U.S.-led Afghanistan campaign. Yet Jemaah Islamiyah was never able to export their members offshore to attack Australian targets inside Australian cities.
New Zealand is also involved with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan alongside the Australians and Americans and was surely on the Indonesian terrorist’s target list, yet New Zealand was not attacked either. Rather it was Jemaah Islamiyah that was broken up, no longer posing an international threat to the Pacific.
As the United States and members of the international community begin to wind up a decade-long focus on international jihadist terrorism, some have announced the end of terrorism. Yet as last week’s attacks in Indonesia demonstrate, the tactic is still favoured by regional militants and likely will continue to be a part of the international landscape for the foreseeable future.
Underlined by the Daoud arrest in the United States along with the 2007 case closer to home of groups observed in the North Island’s Ureweras, domestic terrorism will continue to be a remaining theme of general life in many countries.
Even though the al Qaeda core is marginalised and broken, the ideology of jihadism and the tactic of terrorism survive, winning new sympathisers each year. While jihadists acting inside Indonesia do not necessarily pose a geopolitical threat on anything but a regional scale, they continue to kill scores of people.
For this reason jihadists, and other people willing to use terrorism to achieve political goals, will remain a permanent fixture of the international community. It is crucial not to confuse the decline in large terrorist attacks over the decade as the harbinger of a utopian world without terrorism. That world is likely many decades away, if it will ever arrive.