Wed, 06 Aug 2003

Terrorists strike again

Terrorists have struck again. This time they picked the heart of Jakarta, and this time with such a devastating effect. The full impact of the blast will probably not be known for days, perhaps weeks. What is certain for now is that Tuesday's bomb attack at the J.W. Marriott Hotel killed at least 10 people and injured more than 100 others.

It was also the largest terrorist attack since three bombs exploded almost simultaneously on Oct. 12 in Bali, which killed 202 people in all, mostly foreign tourists. This time, the terrorists selected a target that was also filled with foreigners.

Our condolences and heartfelt sympathy go to the victims and relatives of the bomb attack. No one in their right mind could condone such a barbaric act. We join hands with other peace- loving people nationwide, and across the world, in condemning this attack, and in calling on the Indonesian government and security agencies to move swiftly and catch the perpetrators, and punish them accordingly.

The devastation caused by Tuesday's bomb attack will be felt well beyond the Kuningan Timur subdistrict where the Marriott Hotel is located. And we fear that the impact will reverberate for weeks, if not months or even years. Just like the Bali bombings in October, the bomb struck the nation where it really hurts: at the reputation of Indonesia, and particularly of the government, in its ability to deal with the threat of terrorism.

Experience with the Bali bombings tells us that, with the reputation of the country and government in tatters, investors and potential investors will stay away from Indonesia, as will tourists and regular visitors.

The impact of the Marriott bombing on the economy will not be fully known for a few days, or weeks, but, going by the reaction in the stock and currency markets on Tuesday afternoon, the nation must brace itself for yet another bumpy ride ahead.

Once again, the nation, particularly the government, has been caught napping, just like when the terrorists struck Bali in October. This latest attack came not without warning.

There have been other bombings these past few months that should have alarmed us, particularly the security authorities, that the terrorist threat was still very much with us.

There was the bomb explosion at the House of Representatives building that the police have not been able to resolve; there was the discovery of a huge cache of explosives in Semarang, Central Java, that was believed to be on its way to Jakarta; and there were smaller bomb attacks at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta Airport and behind the United Nations building. And, in spite of the arrests and trials of scores of people believed to be responsible for the Bali bombings, the mastermind, going by the name Hambali, is still at large.

The writing was on the wall that the terrorists, whoever they are, would strike again sooner or later. What we did not know was where, when or how devastating the next attack would be. But, if Bali is any indication, it could be as devastating as anyone could imagine.

In spite of these clear warnings, the attitude of the government and the security apparatus toward these terrorist threats has been found wanting.

Police have shown no sense of urgency in trying to resolve the most recent bomb attacks. There was even a sense of complacency on the police's part after they successfully, albeit only partially, resolved the Bali bombings with the arrests of the alleged perpetrators. Without taking credit from the police for a job well done in investigating the Bali bombings, we all know that there is still a lot to be done. The nation can hardly afford to sit back and relax until we catch all the perpetrators.

The government is also at fault for its laid-back attitude toward the threat of terrorism. Having enacted a new law to deal with the threat of terrorism immediately after the Bali bombings, we have heard little or nothing of what the government has been doing on the antiterrorism front. Tuesday's bombing reflects yet another failure of the government's intelligence in anticipating terrorist attacks.

It is of course no use in ruing what could or should have been done. The task at hand now is to restore confidence, at home and abroad. And it goes without saying that this is a huge undertaking to which all elements in the country must contribute.

The most immediate task for the government, and the police, is to catch the terrorists, and to catch them fast. Until they do so, all efforts at rebuilding confidence will be only be destroyed by the next terrorist attack.