Fri, 29 Dec 2000

Living in terror

The bomb attacks in and outside churches in Indonesia on Christmas Eve must go down as the most heinous mass crime ever committed in this country. This was clearly a concerted and carefully planned campaign designed to kill as well as to instill terror among the population of this country.

The timing and the targets were chosen to create the impression of a religiously motivated campaign. With Idul Fitri, the Muslim holiday, coming only two days after Christmas, the perpetrators were clearly trying to antagonize relations between the Christians, the country's largest minority religious group, and Muslims, who make up more than 80 percent of Indonesia's population.

We have seen this type of campaign work with such devastating effect in Maluku, North Maluku and in Central Sulawesi, where Muslims and Christians have been fighting each other. Now the perpetrators are trying to expand their war theater to the rest of the country, including Jakarta. Let us hope that enough cool heads prevail in Jakarta and the rest of the country to prevent a religious conflict from erupting.

This is a campaign clearly designed to terrorize and to provoke a bigger conflict, rather than to commit mass murders. Most of the bombs that exploded on Sunday night were placed in car parks, away from the church crowd although they were detonated as Christmas services were going on inside. But other bombs, like those inside parcels sent to churches in Medan and in Mojokerto, were clearly intended to maximize the number of casualties. Fortunately in Medan, church officials were more alert and quickly informed the police about the suspicious looking parcels. Otherwise, we would be looking at even far higher death toll.

But the 15 deaths and the dozens who were injured by the blasts are still unacceptable casualties of this mad and senseless campaign. Our hearts go out to all the victims and the grieving relatives who must be devastated by this tragedy. It is of course no consolation to them that most of the rest of the nation will have to live in terror, with the knowledge that whoever carried out the bombing campaign on Sunday night are still out there and can strike again, any time and any where.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Security and Social Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono disclosed on Monday intelligence reports suggesting that the perpetrators would continue the bombing campaign on the day of Idul Fitri to further their objective of setting Christians against Muslims. It is not necessarily heartening that on the rare occasion that the government shared official intelligence reports with public, they proved to be wrong. While it has kept the people alert and vigil as they celebrated Idul Fitri on Wednesday, such a rare disclosure, if anything, further exposes the weakness of the government's intelligence capability. Either the government is completely inept, or the perpetrators are truly professional in their work, or, God forbid, both.

To be able to mount such a concerted bombing campaign of the scale we saw on Sunday must have taken quite a lot of preparation. It must have involved an organization with a large nationwide network to be able to operate in several cities at the same time. And the organization must have had easy access to explosives. For them to leave few trails behind after such a campaign, suggests they have a high level of professionalism.

But surely, somewhere along the line, the police's and the government's intelligence apparatus must have smelt something amiss. Is that not supposed to be their job in the first place? Even if they had failed to anticipate the bombing campaign, they must surely be able to investigate the incidents thoroughly and catch the perpetrators, which is again their job. Surely, the perpetrators must have left clues somewhere for police investigators to pursue. And surely, it should not be that difficult to track down an organization in this country that has this huge network, the skills to organize such a clandestine operation, as well as the money to finance such a campaign.

Sadly, the record of the National Police in handling such cases is simply appalling. In almost all previous bomb attacks, in Jakarta and Medan, the police not only failed to anticipate, but they also failed to come up with credible explanations about who the perpetrators were and what were their motives. The explosion which crippled the Philippine ambassador in Jakarta, the grenade thrown into the Malaysian embassy compound, and the massive explosion in the car park of the Jakarta Stock Exchange building are cases that have not been resolved satisfactorily to this day. Nor have they cracked the mystery behind previous bomb attacks in churches in Medan.

It would not be surprising that these previous attacks were carried out by the same people who launched Sunday's bombing campaign. They certainly have had the same effect: To instill terror. If they were indeed carried out by one and the same organization, solving just one mystery would surely lead to explanations for all the other bomb attacks.

Until the police catch the perpetrators, or at least come up with a credible explanation for the latest bombing campaign, this country will continue to live in terror and the entire nation will forever be held hostage by the perpetrators. We do not know who they are and what they really want. We only know what they are capable of. And we know they can strike again, any time, any where.