A New Wave Of Terror?

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Two weeks before the deadly bomb blast at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, senior Indonesian police officers delivered a briefing in that city's dilapidated police headquarters. They announced they were certain the city faced an imminent bomb attack by Islamic extremists but also tacitly acknowledged they could do little to prevent it. A militant captured during a raid in the central Java city of Semarang in early July confessed that he had recently delivered two carloads of bombmaking materials to Jakarta. During the raid, police had discovered drawings outlining specific areas of the city for possible attack by members of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the regional network of terrorists blamed for last October's Bali bombings that killed 202. "Steps were taken to go on high alert," says one of the participants in the briefing. "Leave was canceled; patrols in the target areas were increased, and the hunt for JI operatives in the capital was intensified. But in a city like Jakarta—20 million people spread out over hundreds of square kilometers—there's not much else you can do."

Jakarta paid the price for that helplessness—or perhaps haplessness—in the face of terror on Aug. 5 when a car bomb exploded in the driveway of the Marriott, killing at least 10 and wounding some 150. Within days, police had announced that they had identified a suspected JI member as the bomber. As in the case of the Bali bombings, the swift response has drawn wide praise. But serious questions remain about just how much more police might have done to prevent the attack in the first place. The latest blast is also a grim reminder that JI's operational capability is as dangerous as ever. "Despite the many arrests in Indonesia, the momentum is still going for JI," says Mick Keelty, head of the Australian Federal Police, which assisted in the Bali investigation. "It's as if we've awakened a sleeping giant."

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Senior Indonesian police sources concede to TIME that they were in possession of information about possible JI strikes in the days before the attack. One source close to the investigation says followup interrogation of four JI suspects arrested in the Semarang raid yielded specific information that the Grand Hyatt, Mulia and the Marriott were possible hotel targets. Also mentioned were the Citraland and Kelapa Gading malls in Jakarta, along with various sites used by Christian congregations. Although police insist that they were increasing security in these areas, in the case of the Marriott, the hotel's management says no warning was ever delivered. Such an omission is particularly alarming when Jakarta security officials themselves knew that JI had at least one cache of explosives in the city and was eager to recommence its campaign of terror.

The Marriott bombing, and the jitters over fresh terrorist plots, come at a particularly tense time for Indonesia. Last week, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, the first man arrested in connection with the Bali bombings, was sentenced to death by a court in the island's capital, Denpasar. Meanwhile, a verdict is imminent for Abubakar Ba'asyir, the alleged spiritual head of JI, who is charged with treason and bombings unrelated to Bali. A conviction for the revered cleric—who denies that JI exists, although he did concede late in his trial that he believed attacks on Christian churches were permissible if the churches were proven enemies of Islam—could further enrage militants and spark more reprisals.

Indeed, the two carloads of bombmaking materials that one militant confessed to transporting into Jakarta aren't the only resource JI members have at their disposal. Indonesian police say that a suspected JI operative named Rusdi, arrested by police in April in Pekanbaru, Sumatra, has confessed that he left 300 kilograms of explosives in the hands of Azahari bin Husin and Nurdin Mohammed Top, two senior JI operatives with whom he was traveling when he was apprehended. Police believe both were instrumental in the Bali plot, with Azahari responsible for designing and assembling the main bomb. The pair managed to evade police and are still at large. Early analysis of the composition and means of detonation of the Marriott bomb indicate the handiwork of Azahari, a Malaysian geophysicist who literally wrote the book on bombing for JI, having penned a manual discovered by police last year. "He's an expert at surveying locations and designing bombs for specific targets," says a source close to the investigation.

In a related development that demonstrates the geographical range and continuing vitality of JI, TIME has learned that an alleged senior JI operative, Zubair, was arrested in late July in southern Thailand along with a number of other suspected JI members. Although it's unclear what Zubair's exact role is, experts say that he is suspected of being a critical link in JI's financial dealings, with particular responsibility for operations in Cambodia and Thailand. Zubair is also suspected of having strong ties to al-Qaeda, although regional intelligence sources have been reluctant to discuss his case, which is being kept under wraps while Zubair is under interrogation.

With bombmakers like Azahari and Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, an Indonesian JI operative who recently escaped from a Manila jail, on the loose, Indonesians face the prospect of awful scenes of blackened bodies and pools of blood—like those broadcast in the aftermath of the Marriott bombing—becoming routine. That explosion was Indonesia's fifth in the past year (although the others were much smaller), and Jakartans are already becoming used to these disruptions. "You can die anytime and anywhere," says Leila Djafaar, a public relations officer who saw the explosion from her office window. "It's impossible to avoid public places all the time if you want to carry on doing business." The Jakarta Stock Exchange plunged some 3% on the day of the bombing but soon rallied, closing the week at 505.36—slightly above Monday's preblast closing. And although Indonesia's currency, the rupiah, held its ground against the greenback, the blast has eroded business sentiment "just when things were turning around," says Thomas Lembong, a former official of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency who is now a private investor. "Indonesia is especially adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory." If the failure of the police to prevent the Marriott bombing is any augury of what is to come, Jakarta may be in for a long, losing season.