Wed, 15 Jan 2003

Bali case reveals police's limitations

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Bali bombing investigation not only uncovered the long denied presence of local terrorists, but also the problems facing the police in such cases even as they made progress in arresting the bomb suspects, said a former police advisor to the police in the case.

Analyst Hermawan Sulistyo was in Bali when the bombs exploded at two crowded nightclubs on Oct. 12 last year, killing more than 190 people, mainly foreign tourists.

"I didn't just witness the investigation, I was part of it," he said after a presentation of the case in an internal meeting at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) on Tuesday.

Himself a LIPI analyst, Hermawan said he was asked by the Bali Police to assist them in the investigation. He had just finalized a police research project to evaluate the work performance of the Bali Police and was already acquainted with the local senior officers, he explained.

"The police were not ready to deal with anything like this (the Bali bombing)," he told the meeting as he recalled the first few hours after the two bombs exploded several minutes past 11 p.m.

He said that poor data management was one constraint that should not have existed. For example, he said, some of the data he used for the slide presentation was not kept by the police because of poor management.

But much of the problems arose from the lack of equipment the police had. When the investigating team set up its command post at one of the hotels close to the bomb site, Hermawan said he noticed the police were not familiar with computer networking.

Even the computers were a problem at the beginning: "What they had at that time were Pentium I computers full of viruses," he said.

A Rp 50 million (about US$5,600) donation from a state company solved that problem, Hermawan said, but added that the absence of funds slowed the police work during the first few days.

"Imagine that there was this police officer who couldn't get anywhere because he ran out of money to buy gasoline for his motorcycle," he gave as an example.

The money was spent within a short time, he said, and Jakarta eventually transferred Rp 100 million.

Help also came from Australia, whose nationals made up most of the list of casualties. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) joined the Indonesian Police in the investigation, and Hermawan said that AFP's biggest contributions was the technology they brought to Bali.

Another difficulty early in the case was identifying the vehicle in which the bomb in front of the Sari Club exploded, Hermawan continued.

The bomb, which left a cater in the street, caused the most casualties.

He said the police initially mistook a taxi and a Kijang minivan as the car bomb. But due to its power, the bomb had blown the vehicle literally to pieces, leaving nothing but strips of metal and engine parts.

Experts from various car manufacturers were brought in to examine the car pieces scattered around the bomb site and they were able to conclude the vehicle was a white Mitsubishi L-300 van.

Through the help of a chemistry expert from the Australian National University (ANU), whom the Australian police hired, the police identified the vehicle's chassis number.

That discovery eventually led the police to the L-300's owner, Amrozi, whose arrest marked the first breakthrough during the three-week investigation.

Police quietly arrested Amrozi, telling him to contact some of the other bombers for a meeting so that they could arrest them all together.

But the plan ran aground when a senior officer from Jakarta tried to claim credit for the arrest. "They (Amrozi's friends) got away because a one-star general called up and said 'wait for me'," Hermawan said without mentioning a name. The general arrived with a camera crew hoping to lead the police in the Lamongan, East Java, raid.

Still through Amrozi's interrogation, the police were able to identify another 25 bomb suspects, 17 of whom have already been detained.

Hermawan added that much of the investigation was led by the Indonesian Police with little assistance from the Australians, aside from their technology.

He added that the two sides also rarely exchanged data and mainly conducted their own investigations instead of working together.

"It's due to public pressure to get quick results and also sheer luck that we have gotten this far," Hermawan said.