Mon, 05 May 2003

Police lashed out over their failure in terror attacks

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A criminologist has lashed out at the National Police for failing to take preemptive action against possible terror attacks in the country despite the presence of a legal umbrella to do so.

"The police have strong legal backing to enable them to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring based on intelligence reports. But they have failed to use (that mechanism)," Adrianus Meliala, an expert in criminology, said.

Adrianus, who is also an adviser to the National Police chief, referred to a recent series of bomb attacks in the country, namely in North Sumatra's capital, near the U.N. mission and at Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta.

The blasts took place after the government had enacted regulations to eradicate terror attacks.

When high-explosive bombs ripped through two nightclubs in Bali last year, the country's security authorities quickly blamed the absence of a legal framework that could enable them to take preemptive measures against terror acts.

Law enforcers argued that they needed a legal umbrella to act on intelligence reports that linked someone to international or regional terror networks.

Even after the Bali bombing, which killed 202 people, Indonesia needed international pressure to enforce two regulations on antiterrorism.

The House of Representatives approved the regulations last month.

Law No. 15/2003 on terrorist crime eradication allows the National Police to arrest people suspected of terrorist activities based on intelligence data or a lower threshold of evidence than that required in other cases, and to detain individuals for lengthy periods for questioning without charges being laid.

Adrianus said he sensed there was a lack of coordination between the two institutions authorized to eradicate terrorism.

"The first possibility for the police intelligence's failure to prevent possible terror attacks in the country is related to friction with the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), which expects to have the power to carry out police tasks, such as making arrests," Adrianus said.

About two weeks after the Bali bombings, President Megawati Soekarnoputri issued an instruction that gives the BIN chief the authority to coordinate the planning and conducting of all intelligence operations in the country.

Indonesia has four intelligence units, including BIN. The other three are the Indonesian Military's Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS), the police intelligence unit and the intelligence unit at the Attorney General's Office.

Analysts have warned that intelligence agencies could compete with each other to conduct operations in the country.

"The police do not want to make false arrests as it could destroy their reputation with the public," Adrianus said, adding that the police were wary over the validity of intelligence reports made by other institutions.

It is also possible, Adrianus said, that the police had no information about terror attacks in the country.

"The police have been focusing on their detective unit too much lately," he said.

The police detective unit won international recognition following the arrest of several suspects in the Bali bombings. Indonesia had come under fire from the international community for its reluctance to admit to the possible presence of terrorist networks operating in the country.

"There is no other way for the police but to revive its intelligence unit and cooperate fairly with other intelligence institutions. Otherwise, terror attacks will be inevitable," Adrianus said.