by Ronald D. Palmer

Amb. Palmer presents in this extended a tour d’horizon over an extended area of the world, drawing together an assessment of the region country-by-country both pre- and post-September 11, 2001. He adds a fascinating account of regional counter-terrorism intelligence activities in the wake of the 9/11 attack.— Ed.

“[T]he local security environment [in Southeast Asia] has changed substantially since the end of the Cold War in 1991. Communism was an external influence. The rise of the concept of an Islamic ummah or community stretching potentially from the Muslim provinces of Southern Thailand, through Malaysia, Singapore, the Southern Philippines and Indonesia is homemade.”

I was among the observers of Southeast Asia who complained in 2001, before September 11, that the region had received inadequate attention by the 1991-2000 Clinton Administration. The complaint was that the United oStates had shifted its previous keen national security focus on the region to mere economics and reliance on the market forces of globalization that paid little attention to the underlying political, economic, and institutional weaknesses of the region. In doing so, the United States appeared to assume that the high economic growth rates of the region would somehow automatically promote democracy, human rights and better governance. Southeast Asia was a success story.

However, the 1997 financial crisis demonstrated that the region’s rapid involvement in the world economy carried risks as well as rewards. Southeast Asia’s still post-colonial, patrimonial — even feudal ô — political, economic, and financial institutions could not stand up to the onslaught of globalized capital markets and the IT Revolution. More dangerously, standard U. S.-backed IMF and World Bank free market-oriented standard solutions of deflation, deregulation, privatization, deregulation, and savage cuts in government spending had little apparent relevance to local leaderships that viewed these nostrums as politically destabilizing at best and evidence of unfeeling U. S. disinterest and cynicism at worst. Southeast Asia, which had been the prized U. S. godchild in the Cold War came to feel like the scorned U. S. stepchild in the post -Cold War period.

The human rights emphasis of U. S. policy toward Indonesia and Malaysia in particular appeared to ignore or to take inadequate account of the basic fragility of the socioeconomic situations in these nations. The authoritarian political systems the Unit çed States had previoualy tolerated, even encouraged, became the focus of U. S. human rights criticism.

U. S. standoffishness toward the region changed abruptly after September 11, 2001. Before detailing the changes, I will analyze the situations in individual countries in 2001 before the United States declaration of war on terrorism.

Before commencing that analysis, however, it is uaeful to recall that acts of political violence, including the use of terror, have a long history in the region. There was the 1948-1960 Emergency in British-ruled Malaya and Singapore caused by the power-seeking Chinese-led communist terrorists. Vietnam has been plagued by rural-urban and north-south tensions dating back at least to the eighteenth-century Nguyen Dynasty. These tensions were exploited by the communists during French rule, but persist under communist rule. Similar rural-urban tensions were exploited b ‘y Thai communists from 1945 until the 1970s, when Peking withdrew its support of the Thai communist party. The Philippines has had three areas of historic strife: Luzon, the Visayas, and the Muslim South, including Mindanao. The Huk movement in Luzon arose from farmer dissatisfaction with landlordism. The Huks have been succeeded by the New People’s Army. The islands of the central area of the Philippine archipelago are called, collectively, the Visayas, and were the victims of annual bloody raids by Muslim Moros from Mindanao in the Spanish era after Christianity was introduced in the fifteenth century. Christianity pushed south relentlessly, however, and by the beginning of the twentieth century American era, Mindanao was reported to be twenty-five percent Muslim. Muslims now reportedly still r Iepresent only twenty-five percent of the Mindanao population. Muslims have been in rebellion in the south since the President Ferdinand Marcos Administration of the early 1970s. Indonesia has a modern history of rebellions including the Communist-inspired 1926 and 1948 Madiun Rebellions and the September 30, 1965, Rebellion. However, the 1948-1963 Darul Islam uprising resulted in the most death and destruction. Burma (Myyanmar) has had virtually continuous anti-government armed opposition by political groups of all stripes, including communists.

I’ll stop there. The point is that political Islam is the current face of violence in Southeast Asia but it is only the most recent expression of historical forces with complex roots.

I. THE SITUATION PRIOR TO SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

MALAYSIA:
Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad became Malaysian prim Ûe minister in 1981 and began an aggressive program of attempting to transform the nation, particularly to uplift its ethnic Malay core, constituting fifty-eight percent of the population (Chinese are thirty-eight percent of the nation.). Malays were still predominantly rural subsistence farmers in 1981. The Chinese were mainly urban dwellers and they dominated the economy. By 1999, after eighteen years of rule, Dr. Mahathir’s affirmative action education and economic programs to create “Malay Millionaires” had successfully transformed Malay status and enabled them to command the heights of the economy. The political vehicle through which this had been accomplished was the Mahathir-led United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which dominated t he Barisan Nasional (National Front) of the three conservative communally based ethnic parties: UMNO, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

Mahathir led the National Front to a smashing victory in the 1995 elections, its fourth in his tenure, maintaining as usual a two-thirds parliamentary majority. However, the shock of the 1997 financial crisis emboldened Mahathir’s deputy Anwar Ibrahim and his supporters to challenge the prime minister politically. Mahathir’s response was to jail Anwar in 1998 on questionable charges. The United States vigorously challenged the jailing. However, Mahathir was determined to stay in power and rejected American and other protests over his treatment of Anwar.

Meanwhile, the Islamist PAS party bec Éame the leading challenger of UMNO for the Malay vote. PAS opposed the secularist UMNO and proposed instead the establishment of an Islamic state based on Muslim religious law. Other more militant Muslim factions also challenged UMNO. There were perhaps as many as forty or so groups, some of which advocated and practiced terrorism.

Mahathir called elections in November 1999 and PAS made spectacular gains, emerging as the parliamentary leader of the opposition. PAS and UMNO split the Malay vote and PAS won control of two northern Malaysia states. However, the non-Malay MCA and MIC voted heavily for the National Front, which was able to maintain a reduced two-thirds majority.

The significance of a two-thirds majority has been that UMNO has been able to amend the constitution freely to advance the Mahathir program.

Concerned by the Islamic threat to UMNO secularism, Mahathir began a wid &Mac2-ranging campaign to associate PAS with Muslim extremists. Arrests were made amid accusations that Muslim militants, including PAS leaders, were under the influence of outside extremists groups. Mahathir also demanded that PAS clarify the policies it would follow in setting up an Islamic state. PAS was unable to do so and Mahathir declared in July 2001 that UMNO had already created an Islamic state under his secular leadership.

This strategy of outflanking PAS was designed to appeal to an increasingly Islamicized Malay population. The Dakwah Islamic revivalist movement had been active at least since 1969 in promoting more rigorous observance of Islam and had made a strong impact on the emerging Malay middle class, which qu estioned the neo-liberal materialist thrust of Mahathir’s policies, even while benefiting from economic, political, social and cultural uplift. In part this paradox resulted from revulsion at the perceived corruption of leading Malay capitalists, especially the chart of Mahathir cronies who were conspicuous beneficiaries of UMNO political and economic support.

Dr. Mahathir has fought the Islamic resurgence for years. His goal has been to create a modern secular state under Malay political and economic control. His strategy was to coopt Islam, that is, to out-Islam PAS. UMNO built mosques and social and educational facilities and other infrastructure especially in rural areas. UMNO sponsored Koran reading contests. It provided financial support for pilgrimages to Mecca. UMNO created an w Islamic Bank and an International Islamic University. Mahathir led Malaysia in played a leading role in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. These efforts have been accompanied by effective use of coercion. Malaysia has retained colonial British laws designed to combat subversion and Mahathir has used them ruthlessly to put down opposition, including Islamic dissidence.

The United States watched Mahathir’s growing authoritarianism uneasily. U. S.-Malaysian relations were strained on September 11, 2001.

INDONESIA:
President Suharto’s thirty-two-year rule ended in 1998 amid widespread dissatisfaction with despotic use of the military and police to maintain his power. Indonesia went from a closed authoritarian society to a wide-open society virtually overnight. A period of political instability ensued, with first B.J. Habibie (1998-1999) and Wahid Abdulrahman (1999-200 ‡1) as presidents. Both were spectacular failures, but Wahid failed even more spectacularly than Habibie and was replaced in July 2001 by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the inexperienced daughter of Indonesia’s first President Sukarno (1945-1966).

The unstable political situation worsened the severe effects of the financial crisis and Indonesia drifted in the post-Suharto period. The central government and the judicial and legal systems lost authority in the 17,000 islands of the archepelagic nation. There were regional insurgencies in Atjeh in northern Sumatra, Sulawesi in the northwest, Borneo in the center, and the Spice Islands of Ambon and Maluku in the east, as well as in Papua, the Indonesian portion of New Guinea. The military K appeared to be encouraging some of this disorder, particularly Muslim-Christian fighting in Sulawesi and Maluku

This was the atmosphere in which East Timor voted in September 2000 in a referendum to stay in Indonesia or to choose independence. President Habibie had blithely offered the referendum in the confident belief the voters would choose continued association with Indonesia. This arrogant misunderstanding of the East Timorese dissatisfaction with Indonesian “colonial” rule since 1975 colored all subsequent events. The East Timorese firmly rejected continued Indonesian rule in the UN-sponsored referendum. The Indonesian military reacted violently, goading pro-Indonesians in East Timor and Indonesian West Timor into murderous attacks on independence supporters. The central government was distracted by other problems and faile Md to comprehend foreign revulsion to the savage spectacle of the vengeance being wreaked by the Indonesian military. Jakarta was stunned by to the angry U. S. reaction, which included the suspension of military-to-military contacts.

Yet the discredited Indonesian military was the only effective nationwide organization even though its morale and moral standing were so low it began avoiding even the appearance of exercising extra-legal political authority at the Jakarta level. Nevertheless, it retained awesome power through its organization which paralleled the civilian bureaucracy. While the military had traditionally opposed political Islam but it began to dabble in local conflicts between opposing Muslim and Christian factions, even arming Muslim groups in an apparent strategy of demonstrating its continuing security importance.

There has always been tension between the tolerant, inclusive, secular Muslim majority and small militant groups which have pushed for more orthodox, conservative, literal interpretations of Islam including demands for an Islamic state. Such advocates led a 1947-1962 Darul Islam rebellion against the central government in which at least 100,000 people died. That insurgency resulted from local factors. Present militant Islamic groups also have basically local agendas but also have international connections which some evidence indicates contacts with terrorist groups.

Political Islam—that is, political parties espousing Islamic ideology, remain weak and in disarray, especially after the failure of the Wahid Abdulrahman government. There –is no support for an Islamic state even though there is a Muslim majority of ninety percent, but Islamic leaders remain opposed to declaring Islam the official religion for fear it would result in further political instability.

Megati had been president of a confused and unstable Indonesia for less than three months on September 11, 2001.

THE PHILIPPINES:
U. S.-Philippine relations suffered in the post-Cold War l990s. The Philippine decision to reject renewal of U.S. base rights in 1991 led to the closing of the vast Clark air base and Subic naval base in 1992. Meanwhile, China began constructing facilities on Mischief Reef in the Philippine-claimed area of the South China Sea. Despite Philippine appeals for the United States to involve itself in the dispute, it declined. U. S. attention was of course focused on the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts.

Meanwhile, Philippine efforts to deal with the insurgencies initiated by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1969, which the Moro Independence Liberation Front (MILF) joined in 1977 and the gangster-oriented Abu Sayyaf joined in 1986, faltered in Mindanao and the Southern Philippines. By 1999 the Manila Government welcomed the reestablishment of a military connection with the United States. A U. S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement was negotiated.

The Philippine hope was that the United States would not only resume its traditional role of providing for the external defense of the nation, but also provide military equipment to help in the fight against Muslim insurgent s. U. S. strategists hoped to regain the military flexibility that the Philippine basing connection had provided.

Underlying the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao is the demographic changes that began occurring in the United States’ 1898-1945 colonial rule. Christians were fifteen percent of the population of Mindanao in 1900. They are now eighty-five percent of the population.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the first to declare support for the United States after September 11.

VIETNAM:
U. S.-Vietnamese relations were on hold for most of the 1990s. Conservative leaders were strongly opposed to economy-opening measures contained in the proposed U. S.-Vietnam Trade Agreement negotiated in 1999. Vietnam only signed the measure in July 2000. It preceded President Clinton’s historic November 2000 visit to Vietnam.

Vietnamese society is a gerontocracy, that is, a government led by the old on the basis of seniority. The political system has been dominated by men in their seventies who gained their positions by orthodox adherence to communist party doctrine. They have doggedly resisted sharing policymaking responsibility with the rising generation. The war did end twenty-seven years ago, in 1975, and the majority of the population is now under twenty-five years of age. The next generation of leaders is waiting impatiently to take power. They have now been sufficiently exposed to the outside world to be increasingly aware that Vietnam lags behind in the r egion and in the world. However, change occurs slowly in Vietnam and the present system encourages corruption.

CAMBODIA:
Despite emerging second to King Sihanouk’s party in the 1993 UN-sponsored elections, the Cambodian Peoples Party of former Khmer Rouge leader Hun Sen has steadily expanded its power and Hun Sen has taken charge of the Cambodian political system. His effective use of intimidation and murderous force was demonstrated in 2001 preparations for the February 2002 local elections. Although there was some public optimism that elections were to be held at all, even perhaps flawed elections, there was little anticipation that Hun Sen would relax his authoritarian control.

Cambodia joined ASEAN in 1997 but has proved resistant to ASEAN efforts to promote democratization. Malaysia has become an important Cambodian trading partner.

LAOS:
Laos continued to be plagued by political infighting in 2001 caused by internal strife in the ruling Lao Peoples Revolutionary Party which took power in 1975. The party is dominated by older leaders opposed to political and economic reform. There are sub-groups with overlapping memberships composed of older members, younger members, pro-China versus pro-Vietnam members, and Northern versus Southern members. The result is policy immobility and stagnation. However, the pro-Vietnam faction appears to be growing in influence.

Laos joined ASEAN in 1998. It is the most backward of the ASEAN 10.

BURMA (MYANMAR):
The State Peace and Development Council of Burma, a military junta, had been in power in 2001 for thirteen years. The military have actually ruled Burma since the 1962 coup of General Ne Win. The abortive 1990 elections won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party were annulled by the military. She has only recently been released from house arrest.

Burma was admitted to ASEAN in 1998 and Malaysia has actively sought to encourage the Burmese military leaders to open up the political system. Malaysian Tan Sri Razali Ali has headed a UN mission to encourage political reform, including providing a political role for Aung San Suu Kyi. Ironically, the Burmese are reportedly studying the authoritarian system of Malaysian Dr. Mahathir as a possible model for change.

Meanwhile, Burma has been under U. S. and EU sanctions and has had to turn to China for support. Chinese commercial and military ties with Burma have flourished. China’s Yunnan Province has become Burma’s largest trading partner. Mandalay now has a large population of Chinese traders. China views Burma as its economic gateway to Southeast Asia.

The Burmese leadership is reportedly nervous over its growing relationship with its huge, and eager, neighbor. This may provide some momentum for Burma to improve its relations with nations which have imposed sanctions.

SlNGAPORE:
The city-state was hard hit by the decline in regional trade that resulted from the 1997 financial crisis and suffered a severe economic contraction. However, its strong financial and political institutions proved adequate to handle the recession.

Singapore continued and its close security relationship with the United States. Its deepened its harbor facilities to accommodate U. S. aircraft carriers denied access to Philippine basing.

BRUNEI:
Brunei’s absolute monarchy suffered embarrassment by the revelations of financial mismanagement by Prince Jeffri. Otherwise, Brunei remained peaceful and stable.

ASEAN:
The regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) founded in 1967 grew in effectiveness through the 1970s and 1980s but proved ineffective in the financial crisis of the late 1990s. It had deliberately avoided building a strong administrative and bureaucratic like that of the European Union for fear of diluting national sovereignties, relying instead for executive direction by annual meetings of foreign ministers. This fact and the fact that Indonesia’s stabilizing “Hidden Hand” leadership was removed because of domestic political turmoil rendered ASEAN incapable of developing coherent policies to confront the crisis.

ASSESSMENT
These are some of the external aspects of 1990 developments. The urban areas of the region became connected, however gingerly, with the world economy. In most cases though surging urban populations consisted of relatively recent rural migrants. Education was more widely available but opportunities for higher education were limited by lack of faculty and facilities and was generally unable to accommodate more than ten percent of secondary school graduates.

Urban populations were, however, dwarfed by rural populations where the lives of people were still deeply influenced by traditional political, economic, social, and religious norms, particularly in heavily Muslim areas of southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Mindanao and the Southern Philippines. These Islamic regions had a sense of being pushed to the sidelines by secular governments. Rigorous forms of Islam, emphasizing Muslim identity, were a growing reaction to the perceived assault of modernization and materialistic globalization.

These factors and others I have not mentioned were present on September 11, 2001. The U. S. declaration of war on terrorism has refocused America’s attention on Southeast Asian national security issues. However, the local security environment has changed substantially since the end of the Cold War in 1991. Communism was an external influence. The rise of the concept of an Islamic ummah or community stretching potentially from the Muslim provinces of Southern Thailand, through Malaysia, Singapore, the Southern Philippines and Indonesia is homemade.

II. POST-SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, SOUTHEAST ASIA:
U. S. security and intelligence authorities quickly began weaving strands of evidence together after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and identified the Al Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden as the perpetrators. Initially, attention was focused on to the Al Qaeda-Taliban links in Afghanistan and the Middle East. More careful examination of the evidence revealed that Al Qaeda had deep roots in Southeast Asia. This evidence was obtained through, the cooperation of Malaysian, Singaporean, and Philippine security services. Indeed, these services had already identified apparent leaders of Al Qaeda cells and begun preparations for arrests. The Malaysians even passed to CIA information on certain suspicious persons whom they had observed locally. Three of these persons were among the eventual September 11 hijackers. As early as 1992, Philippine services provided the information that led to the arrest of the attackers of the World Trade Center that year. Meanwhile, the Filipinos had worked with the United States on the problem of the puzzling series of local bombings. The world of Intelligence is inherently secretive and opaque but a close reading of newspaper reports provides many hints that the governments of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore generously shared such bits and pieces of intelligence as they obtained with the U. S. government before September 11. Inevitably, such information concerned the individual security situation of each nation.

The U. S. offensive in Afghanistan resulted in the capture of startling documents that revealed the existence of an al Qaeda network that was not just national but regional in scope. As already indicated, national investigations of suspicious Muslim extremist activities were at an advanced stage and arrests were imminent so it is impossible to state exactly how added U. S. intelligence information affected national plans. It is possible, however, that U. S. information made it easier for these governments to make their arrests and to go public with derogatory information on subversive activities of nationals from neighboring countries. Malaysian extremists were among the plotters in Singapore. Philippine-based al Qaeda operatives plotted against both Malaysia and Singapore.

Indonesia is the “weakest link” in addressing terrorism in Southeast Asia.

However, it was only after the December 2001 arrests in Malaysia and the January arrests in Singapore that the masterminds of the al Qaeda operations there and in the Philippines were identified as Indonesian nationals. These persons reportedly fled back to Indonesia before they could be arrested. This information was given to the Indonesian government, which has been disappointingly slow in reacting to it. Part of the reason is that Indonesia has been so preoccupied with other problems that it has paid little attention to growing al Qaeda penetration of its 220 million population, ninety percent of whom are Muslims. In any case, Muslim fundamentalism and militancy has grown substantially in the confused politico-economic situation that has prevailed since the 1997 financial crisis and the 1998 fall ofthe Suharto regime. Suharto had tried to keep the lid on the cauldron of political Islam in his thirty-two years of rule. Freed of such restraint in the post-Suharto era, Islamic radicalism has grown and even the activities of such aggressive paramilitary groups as the Laskar Jihad have been condoned. The public has also given little support to the U. S. campaign against the Taliban, thus the main apparent reason the Indonesian Government has failed to take action against local al Qaeda leaders identified by its neighbors and the United States is fear of a backlash by the supporters of such leaders and possible widespread public unrest. Indonesia is the “weakest link” in addressing terrorism in Southeast Asia.As far as is currently known, the al Qaeda problem is most severe in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia. A country-by-country assessment follows.

MALAYSIA:
One of the tactics of the Malaysian government’s strategy to increase its appeal to Islamic activists was to adopt a no-visa-required policy for visiting Muslims. This fact, along with Malaysia’s modern infrastructure and telecommunications system, its bustling economy with world wide air connections and its many Muslim organizations, made Malaysia a welcome crossroads for al Qaeda plotters. Additionally, there were growing numbers of local religious clerics teaching the severe brand of Islam espoused by the Taliban in private homes or in little-known schools.

“[I]t is likely that the al Qaeda cells discovered to date are only the tip of a terrorist iceberg of unknown dimensions.”

The career of the Malaysian Yazid Sufaat illustrates how al Qaeda took root. Sufaat spent four years, 1983-1987, studying biochemistr y in the U. S. His mother in law considered he had strayed from Islam and urged him to take religious instruction. Meanwhile, he joined the army, became a captain and served as a laboratory technician in a medical brigade. He became extremist in his religious outlook and came under the influence of exiled radical Islamic Indonesian teachers. They were Abubakar Baasyir and Riduaan Isamuddin known as Hambali. Sufaat became the key accomplice of these men who were al Qaeda agents.Both men had fled to Malaysia from Indonesia in the mid-1980s crackdown on radical Islam by then president Suharto. Baasyir apparently stayed in Malaysia but Hambali went to Afghanistan in the late 1980s to fight against the Russian occupation. Hamali returned to Malaysia in the early 1990s full of zeal to continue and expand the armed struggle to promote Islam. Hambali joined forces with Baasyir and they formed Jemaah Islamiya (the Islamic Group) by the mid-1990s. Sufaat and perhaps thirty to forty others were members of this organization which Baasyir led with Hambali as his second in command. Sufaat was the key Malaysian follower and hosted group meetings at his residence.

In January, 2000 Hambali ordered Sufaat to host two of the hijackers who later crashed United Flight 77 into the Pentagon. CIA had tipped off Malaysian police that a group of suspected Arab terrorists would arrive about that time and the entire group was tailed closely and videotaped.. Malaysian surveillance of Jemmah Islamiya apparently began at that time. The CIA was provided the videotape, but initially paid it little attention until mid-1991 when one of those photographed was identified as a possible suspect in the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in October 2000. By then the two eventual hijackers had already entered the United States. Meanwhile, Sufaat went to Afghanistan and served in a Taliban medical unit.

Hambali also set up at least two al Qaeda cells in Singapore composed of ethnic Malays. After U. S. bombing began in late 2001, one of the cells was instructed to set off explosions at the U. S. and other embassies in Singapore. Another cell was ordered to blow up U. S. warships and other targets in Singapore. In October, two al Qaeda agents slipped into Singapore to help with the bombing plans. One called “Mike” was a former student of Baasyir. Hamali left for Afghanistan at this time.

However, Singapore police were informed soon after September 11 by local sources of Jemaah Islamiya links with al Qaeda and began investigations. Arrests were made in December shortly before the bombings were to occur. Singapore police interrogations produced evidence information leading back to Malaysia and Hambali. Malaysian police had already begun making their own arrests of known Jemaah Islamiya members. Yazid Sufaat returned to Malaysia from Afghanistan in December and was also arrested. Sufaat has been charged among other things with procuring four tons of ammonium nitrate—twice the amount Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma bombings. The explosives were stored at the Indonesian Island of Batam and have not yet been recovered.

The Singapore arrests provided the identity of “Mike” who turned out to be a key figure in al Qaeda activities in the Philippines. The Singaporeans informed the Philippine authorities that arrested the man who has been a useful informant. His name is Fahur Rathman al-Ghozi, an Indonesian associate of both Baasyir and Hambali. He is charged with December 2000 bombings in Manila in which twenty-two people were killed and is a suspect in Christmas Eve church bombings in Indicia in which fifteen persons were murdered. These attacks were reportedly test runs for the planned Singapore bombings.

Al Ghozali, like Baasyir and Hambali, was a highly sophisticated agent. He had traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, using five passports, often sailing in small fishing boats at night to escape detection. Aside from his contacts with these men, al Ghozali worked closely also with another Indonesian Hambali lieutenant, Faiz Abu Bakar Bafana. Bafana gave instructions to al Ghozali to put the Singapore bombing plot into motion, but al Ghozali decided four tons of explosives was inadequate and ordered that a total of seventeen tons be procured. This blunder led to delay which gave the Singapore police enough time to make the arrests which unraveled the plot.

Hambali and Baasyir escaped arrest and were able to return to Indonesia. Baasyir has resumed his public role as a religious teacher. Hambali’s whereabouts are unknown.

There is no indication that this al Qaeda network was in contact with the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines. Such contacts were presumably made by other cells.

III. U. S. ROLE:
U. S. intelligence agencies and the Malaysian, Ä Singapore and Philippine agencies have cooperated closely and joined heartily in the U. S. war against terrorism. although the United States has offered military and other assistance to these governments. Neither Malaysia nor Singapore needs nor desires such assistance. However. the Philippines has eagerly. accepted the U. S. offer and 600—soon-to-be 900—U. S. Special Forces have been assigned to the Philippines, of whom 150 are stationed in Basilan. Meanwhile the United States has reportedly provided the Philippine armed forces with nearly $100 million in equipment. However, U. S. involvement has caused considerable negative public reaction and U. S. forces have been put under Philippine command and prevented from participating in military operations. The United States has been patient and understanding of the public relations problems of the Philippine government, especially the still shaky political position of President Macapagal. The small Abu Sayyaf contingent probably numbers less than 100 persons, but continues to elude the 6,000 or so Philippine military pursuing them in the thick jungle. U. S. assistance is limited to aerial reconnaissance.

The Indonesian government has been reluctant to cooperate with the United States or with its Malaysian, Philippine or Singaporean neighbors. Information on the links between Indonesians and al Qaeda have been provided to Indonesian authorities, but no arrests have been made. The government of President Megawati is also shaky and dependent to a degree on the support of Muslim parties. In any case, the U.S. still maintains sanctions against Indonesian military human rights abuses in the East Timor crisis. The Indonesian public reacted negatively against the U. S. anti-Taliban campaign in Afghanistan. There is little immediate prospect Indonesia will join the U. S. anti-Terror coalition.

IV. CONCLUSION:
Al Qaeda has made major prog ress in Southeast Asia. The Jemaah Islamiya goal of establishing an Islamic state encompassing Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Southern Philippines is only in its early stages and has been stymied for the time being. However, it is likely that the al Qaeda cells discovered to date are only the tip of a terrorist iceberg of unknown dimensions. Challenges to local governments to maintain secular governments will be severe. Those challenges will take many forms, only a few of which will have security or military dimensions. The United States can help meet these challenges but will have to focus major policy resources including intelligent attention on the region. This will require a policy framework much larger than merely fighting terrorism.End.


Ronald Palmer
Ronald Palmer

Ambassador Ronald Palmer, a member of the American Diplomacy Publishers board of directors, frequently contributes analyses and commentaries to this journal. During a long and distinguished career as a Foreign Service officer, he served as U. S. ambassador to Malaysia from 1981 to 1983. Additionally, he filled the post of American ambassador to Togo, 1976-78, and Mauritius, 1986-89. frequently.

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