The Sari club, in the town of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali, was one of those places where the world comes out to play. By 11 p.m. on Oct. 12, it was packed with the usual crowd—tanned Australian kids in shorts and halter tops dancing to house music, surfers in from the beach downing beers and Jell-O shots, expat sports teams from Hong Kong and Singapore, backpackers from around the world—the children of globalization, mobile phones in hand, making out before heading back to their cheap hotels. David Fielder, 46, a British rugby referee in town from Hong Kong for a game, was standing with a group of friends, having what was planned to be the night's last drink, when he heard an explosion. Ten seconds later, he says, came something more. "There was a huge bang, and I felt I was lifted up. There was just light and sound—it was like someone knocked me out." Fielder remembers hearing screams and noticing that he could see the sky: the roof of the club had been blown off. Picking himself up from the rubble, he tried to stumble out of the bar, only to fall into a mess of blackened dead bodies.
Investigators with the Australian Federal Police, assisting local Indonesian authorities, think there were three bombs in Bali synchronized to wreak maximum havoc. The first explosion—quite small—was inside Paddy's Irish Bar, a popular watering hole. A few seconds later, a slightly more powerful bomb exploded in front of the Sari Club. Then, as terrified customers poured into the street from the bars, came the real thing; a Mitsubishi L300 minivan had pulled up to the sidewalk, packed with C4 high explosive and ammonium nitrate—around the world, the car bomber's favorite recipe. The van blew up. Survivors tell of the familiar horrors of terrorism: bodies with legs and heads and breasts blown off, roasted skin peeling away from arms, daughters crying for their mothers, mothers desperate to find their kids, a place that only two weeks ago was a byword for beauty, friendliness and fun turned into a scene from Hieronymus Bosch. "Why Bali?" asked Fielder. The only answer is another question: Why anywhere?
Though the Bali bombing was particularly sickening, it was part of a greater spasm of violence that has counterterrorism officials bracing for more. The CIA believes that the outrage was the work of Muslim extremists belonging to the Southeast Asian group Jemaah Islamiah, which the U.S. believes is closely linked with al-Qaeda, the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden. And al-Qaeda, CIA Director George Tenet said in congressional testimony last week, is now in "execution phase." Indeed, senior U.S. intelligence sources tell Time that they fear a recent spate of terrorist attacks around the world may be a warm-up for a much bigger strike against American interests. Al-Qaeda prisoners now being interrogated, says a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, "keep talking about a spectacular event. And I don't think we saw that event in Bali."
Al-Qaeda has always been a network of Islamic terrorist groups. But since the destruction of the Afghan training camps last year, it has had to decentralize many of its operations. That has not diminished its power. Many al-Qaeda operatives are now back in their homelands, or in third countries, making common cause with Islamic groups to wage jihad against the U.S. and its allies. These factions, inspired by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, do not require contact with one another, or a central authority, to act as al-Qaeda would want them to. "Bin Laden unleashed forces accumulating for many years, and all the gloves are off now. Centralized clearance is not needed," says Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
The gloves are off indeed. Examining the terrorist attacks before and after Bali, a French investigator notes, "it's starting to look like a campaign of terror rather than a series of dissimilar attacks." Within two days last week, there were three terrorist attacks in the Philippines: two in the southern city of Zamboanga, one on a bus in Manila. Combined, they left 10 dead. (A bomb in Zamboanga earlier in the month killed an additional three people, including a U.S. Green Beret commando.) Before Bali, terrorists in Kuwait had killed an American Marine, and a French oil tanker off the shores of Yemen had been bombed. In a statement purporting to be from bin Laden posted on a website, al-Qaeda praised the Kuwait and Yemen attacks. And in Italy this month, authorities arrested five Tunisians suspected of having terrorist connections. An investigator in Milan told Time that the plot was the first sign in a year that terrorist cells in Europe were increasingly involved not justin activity like producing false documents but also in preparing new attacks. "They are not as strong as they were before Sept. 11," the investigator said, "but they are better organized than at any point in the past year."
If that all sounds bad, here's worse. The great triumph of the war against terrorism, so far, has been the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the destruction of al-Qaeda's camps there. But U.S. security sources in Afghanistan tell Time that there is now clear evidence that al-Qaeda is re-establishing camps across the border from Afghanistan in Pakistan. On a recent trip, a Time reporter accompanied paratroopers from Task Force Panther, based in southeastern Afghanistan, as they patrolled the frontier (see below). Captain Patrick Willis of the 82nd Airborne says camps in Pakistan around the town of Mirim Shah are training men in bombing and the use of mines. "They have the same infrastructure they had in Afghanistan," says Willis. "A lot of it has just moved east. They continue to recruit from the young impressionable men in the area." U.S. military intelligence believes that al-Qaeda has built the new camps intentionally small so as not to provoke a clampdownfrom Pakistan's government.