West turns up pressure for action by Jakarta

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The Independent Online

The Government of Indonesia and its erratic security apparatus yesterday found themselves in the cross-hairs of an international drive to press them to find who committed the Bali bombings and to act decisively against al-Qa'ida and other Islamic extremist groups to stop other attacks.

The Government of Indonesia and its erratic security apparatus yesterday found themselves in the cross-hairs of an international drive to press them to find who committed the Bali bombings and to act decisively against al-Qa'ida and other Islamic extremist groups to stop other attacks.

The pressure is being led by Australia, which suffered the heaviest losses. Canberra has sent 40 police forensic experts and intelligence officers for what its officials hope will be a pain-staking probe of Lockerbie-style proportions to establish who killed more than 180 of their people.

Their attention – and that of the United States and Britain – is likely to be trained on Indonesia's shadowy and powerful intelligence agency, BIN, an umbrella organisation which covers foreign and domestic operations, but which western agencies believe has failed to tackle Islamist militancy.

The bomb investigators face a difficult task. The Indonesia military, elements of which are suspected of supporting radical Islamist groups, plays a significant role in BIN.

In Bali, Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, urged the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to allow an international investigation. It was, he pointedly emphasised, "very important" that Indonesia and Australia "hold exactly the same view about terrorism".

Specialists from the FBI and Scotland Yard are also on the island, and the CIA will get more closely involved. But sources said Australia, as Indonesia's neighbour and the worst-affected country, will expect to lead the way. With Mr Downer in Bali was Dennis Richardson, the director general of ASIO, Australia's intelligence service.

Tony Blair and President George Bush yesterday added to the pressure. Mr Blair said he was considering a ban on Jamaah Islamiya (JI) the Islamic group suspected in the bombings, and believed to be linked to al-Qa'ida. Mr Bush said he planned to talk to President Megawati about the need to act. And the Philippines called for a regional coalition to fight the growing threat of JI.

Indonesia's position is not easy. Its officials seem likely to argue that its security forces and military do not have sufficient hardware – from mobile phone intercepts, to coastal surveillance – to detect and arrest extremists in an archipelago of 17,000 islands, populated by 180 million Muslims.

And President Megawati, much like President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, faces internal and external pressures which are hard to reconcile. Some Muslim provinces have been agitating for the introduction of Islamic law.

Indonesia also faces demands to arrest the firebrand Muslim cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, whose detention has long been sought by Singapore, Malaysia and the US. They say he is a key figure in JI: he denies it. This is an issue Indonesia's senior officials have tried to dodge, not least because the cleric has considerable support. But the officials have tried to signal a willingness to co-operate, despite the risk of a backlash, and to deflect criticism that it has been lax on militant groups. Its Defence Minister, Mathori Abdul Djalil admits al-Qa'ida is in Indonesia.

Yesterday, the leader of the most prominent militant Islamist group, Laskar Jihad, announced disbandment of his organisation, which has been waging a ferocious war with Christians in the Molucca islands. The militia's existence has long been seen by Indonesia's critics as evidence of the government's lax stance on militants. Its leader, Jafar Umar Thalib, denied the move was linked to the Bali atrocities.

Yesterday, sources said US intelligence had identified Bali as a possible target for terrorists after communications intercepts last month indicating an impending attack against a Western tourist centre. No specific warning was made public.

The Kuta Beach atrocity – and the prospect that other hard-to-protect tourist centres may be struck – has been seized by critics of the US focus on Iraq as proof that the real terrorist threat lies far from Baghdad. But Colin Powell, the Secretary of State said yesterday: "Terrorism raises its head in many different ways, and this is proof of it."

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