THE discovery of a militant training camp in Indonesia has increased US concerns that extremists are regrouping and eyeing Western targets.
As President Barack Obama prepares to visit the world’s most populous Muslim country tomorrow, there is renewed attention on terrorists in Indonesia who in the past year appeared to be banding together into a new al-Qa’ida-influenced insurgency.
Recent Pentagon moves to renew a training program with Indonesia’s special forces and bolster military assistance show that the Obama administration believes the country needs more help tracking and rooting out insurgents.
The focus is particularly on those who rejoin the fight once they are released from jail.
A country long viewed as a counter-terrorism success story, the US has praised Indonesia’s efforts to crack down on extremists, with government police and military authorities capturing or killing more than 100 terrorists over the past year.
US defence officials, however, worry about the overall threat. The officials are watching for any signs of movement or increased communications between Indonesian extremists and al-Qa’ida leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Obama’s long-promised visit to the nation where he lived from age 6 to 10 comes as US defence officials said Indonesia has exhibited both the will and the ability to pursue extremists.
This includes developing an aggressive rehabilitation program, as well as a consistent string of arrests, these officials said.
But they also are concerned that some jailed militants have returned to the fight after their release. That raises questions about how effective the rehabilitation program is and how well authorities are tracking militants once they are free.
“There is a hard core that are not reformable,” said Sidney Jones, an expert on the region and analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
The discovery of a terrorist training camp in Aceh province this year heightened US fears that there may be other emerging threats in the country’s remote regions that Indonesia has failed to find. According to Indonesian authorities, the Aceh group was plotting assassinations or attacks similar to the one in Mumbai, India, in 2008.
While recent attacks in Indonesia have focused on government and law enforcement, several high profile strikes in the past eight years have targeted Western interests.
Officials said it appears Indonesian militants have been inspired and, on occasion, encouraged by al-Qa’ida. While they suspect there has been ongoing communication, officials say they have little proof. Last year, a proposed visit to the region by Obama triggered threats of a terrorist attack.
Defence and counter-terrorism officials said they believe the threats were for an attack on Western interests during the visit, but were not necessarily aimed directly at the president.
Obama postponed the trip because of other scheduling concerns, according to the White House. But extremists gloated that they had scared the American president away.
Counter-terrorism officials say the threat has remained steady since the Aceh camp was discovered. They worry that other terrorist leaders, such as Umar Patek, who’s believed to be in the Philippines, may be looking to travel back to Indonesia. Others suggest Patek, who is wanted for the 2002 Bali bombings, already may have returned.
Patek a member of the Indonesia-based militant group Jemaah Islamiah, fled to the southern Philippines after the Bali bomb attacks that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
To help better monitor the terrorists’ movement and trafficking in the region, the US has provided money for helicopters, radar systems and small boats, to help build an interdiction force.
Since 2006, the Pentagon has sent about $US60 million in military aid to Indonesia for a new regional maritime warning system. As much as $US20 million is in the pipeline.