Wed, 15 Jan 2003

Another investigator's analysis of Bali bombing

Hermawan Sulistyo, Researcher, Investigator, Conflict and Peace Research Network (CONCERN 324)

With the submission of the file on Amrozi as a suspect by the police to the Attorney General's Office, the Bali blast case has reached the third stage. The three stages are the investigation; chase, hunt and arrests of the named suspects; and trials (pro- justicia).

Under the Indonesian court system -- in which a court is presided over by a panel of judges, without juries -- the verdict depends on how strong the case is wrapped and presented by the prosecutors. And the file relies heavily on the investigation to reconstruct the events and the role of a suspect in the case.

It is therefore important to delve deeply into the investigation process and its results, to avoid misconception and misconstruction of the case, as written by Robert S. Finnegan (Bali bombing: An investigator's analysis, The Jakarta Post, Jan. 3). I happened to be near the crime scene when the blasts occurred and had a chance not only to watch closely the investigation process but also facilitate the investigative team.

Basically, the investigation is divided into two groups of investigators, those who adopt the inductive method of investigation and those who rely more on the deductive method.

The first group, mainly comprised of Criminal Investigations Department detectives and forensic experts, starts its work by examining closely the crime scene before constructing possible scenarios and considering perpetrators.

By adopting this method, investigators rely heavily on hard evidence found at the crime scene and related documents, such as lists of airline passengers (from Oct. 7 until the date of the investigation) and lists of guests from as many hotels as possible. No less important is the questioning of key witnesses.

The second group starts its work by using hitherto available information, media reports, intelligence reports, "scholarly" analyses and even rumors, gossip and speculation. Theoretically speaking, the two methods should arrive at the same results and conclusion.

In reality, however, the two methods may arrive at opposite conclusions. Details of hard evidence are important in the inductive method, followed by analyses. By contrast, the deductive method stresses the analyses but often neglects details. The difference is clear when we read newspapers, listen to the radio or watch TV programs.

Readers may compare the map of the crime scene with the map drawn by forensic experts. There is another map, drawn by forensic experts, that shows the spread of the remains of the L- 300 Mitsubishi minivan that was used as a car bomb.

To arrive at a conclusion of the type of explosives used to make the car bomb is not an easy task. The piston valve, for instance, was found on the street in front Paddy's Cafe, 39.4 meters from ground zero. A part of the piston was found 41.4 meters from ground zero.

There were altogether 40 main parts of the car found around ground zero, with a tire at the farthest, found inside the Dunkin Donut shop, 71.15 meters from ground zero! Forensic experts then put together the pieces found into a big puzzle. It took almost a week for the forensic team to determine that the car was an L-300 Mitsubishi, after a round-the-clock effort to solve the puzzle.

Thus, the L-300 Mitsubishi car did not appear from out of nowhere, because the "real car" may have been torn into unidentified pieces. It is the same with the examination process of the explosives. There were three blasts: two in Legian (inside Paddy's Cafe and in front of the Sari Club) and one in Renon.

Forensic teams came to the same conclusion on the explosives used in the Paddy's and the Renon blasts, that is TNT. But there are dissenting opinions on the explosives used for the car bomb. The Indonesian team found only a trace of residue of Cl at one sample point, while the Australian team found similar residues at eight sample points.

It should be noted, however, that the Australian team did the forensic examination on the fourth day after the blast -- legally, the finding cannot be used as evidence in court. The Indonesian team found other residues, which were cynically referred by Mr. Finnegan as "everything but the kitchen sink". Those "everything" contained mostly RDX, the main substance in a plastic bomb (C-4).

If an analysis used the findings of the Australian team, it would be easy to construct a clear line between residues of the explosives used in the car bomb and the chemicals that Amrozi reportedly bought earlier in Surabaya. But if one followed an analysis using the Indonesian team's findings, further explanation would be needed on where and from whom the RDX was obtained by the perpetrators.

Concerning the use of TNT, Imam Samudra has confessed that the explosive was bought on the black market in the southern Philippines. Samudra, however, did not admit to or pretended not to know about the use of RDX. It is possible that he does not know about the explosive, for it was Dul Matin (Djoko Pitono), who is still at large, who reportedly built the bomb.

RDX may officially be used by the military, but every good investigator knows that one may buy RDX on the black market. In addition, despite some speculation on the source of the RDX, the explosive is used in Korean-made grenades, popularly referred to as "pineapple grenades," which are easier to obtain.

The pattern of the damage caused by the explosion may fit into a forensic analysis that the nature of the bombing was "high velocity, low speed". The difference is between vector, impact, momentum and energy of the blast and rate, frequency and scalar.

The notion that any explosive with a radiation effect may be put aside, otherwise it is unlikely I would be able to write this article -- my feet were in the hole of ground zero less than one hour after the blast.

Dr. Hermawan Sulistyo is also the editor of the recently published Bom Bali: Buku Putih Tidak Resmi Investigasi Teror Bom Bali (Bali Bomb: Unofficial White Book of the Investigation into the Bali Bomb Terror). He was chief investigator of the May 1998 riots and other major violent conflicts.