A grim reminder to stay on guard against terror

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 September, 2004, 12:00am

The bomb blast in Jakarta yesterday was not entirely unexpected. Sadly, it has confirmed fears that Indonesia was about to suffer another deadly terrorist strike. But the nature of the attack has given rise to new concerns. It reveals how far Indonesia still has to go if it is to combat the terrorist threat which lurks within its borders. And the targeting of the Australian embassy has touched a raw nerve overseas.

Fears that this staunch US ally would face terrorist attacks in the run-up to its general election next month would appear to have been realised.

Details of the attack are still emerging. It is clear that the explosion was a powerful one. At least nine lives have been lost and more than 180 people injured. The reinforced security barrier around the building appears to have done its job. Embassy staff escaped with minor injuries. The same, unfortunately, could not be said for those in the streets outside.

It is not yet known who was responsible for the blast. Suspicion has understandably already fallen on the militant Islamic group Jemaah Islamiah (JI). The radical Islamic network is widely believed to have been behind the bombing nearby of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta 13 months ago.

Since the Bali bombings in October 2002, JI has been heavily targeted both inside and outside Indonesia. Many of its members - including some of its leaders - have been arrested and the group's access to funding restricted. But key players in JI's terrorist activities have escaped capture. And the concern that it has been recruiting - and rebuilding - remains.

Yesterday's bombing suggests that the threat posed by JI remains a big one. Even if it was carried out by a different militant group, the conclusion is unavoidable; Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim country - cannot afford to soften its stance on terrorism. Its resolve will be tested as the country prepares for presidential polls on September 20, though both candidates have promised to take a hard line.

The blast should swing Indonesian public opinion behind efforts to ensure terrorists are brought to justice. While the target was a western one, most of the victims were Indonesians going about their daily lives. That should deny the extremists the sympathy of the moderate majority among the country's Muslims.

In Australia, both the ruling conservative party and the Labor opposition have pushed a strong line against terrorism in their election campaigns.

But Labor intends to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq by the end of this year, a theme Spain's Socialists had also campaigned on ahead of a general election they went on to win against the odds following the train bombings in Madrid before polling day.

The threat of terrorism has long been recognised. But the need for vigilance is underlined by yesterday's atrocity.