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Jakarta Terror
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 22, 2009


Americans tend to think of terror as a snake. Slithering, scaly, poisonous, deadly. The analogy works, but only if you think of terror not as a dangerous python or a venomous cobra, it works if you think of terror as the hydra - the many headed serpent from Greek mythology. The monster that was slain by the Greek god Hercules, the monster that grew back two heads each time one was chopped off.

When two luxurious hotels in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, were devastated by a suicide bombing, the CIA was caught off guard. The double bombing of the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels that killed nine people and wounded over sixty was a clear attack on Western targets. The organizers were clearly members of Jama Islamiya, a splinter organization off al Qaeda. Even before JI publicly claimed responsibility for the attack it was easy to determine that they were the perpetrators, all the indications were there - and not just because this same Marriot hotel was hit in 2003 by this same group, killing twelve people.

Jama Islamiya functions as an off shoot of al Qaeda. Jama Islamiya operatives are trained by al Qaeda. Jama Islamiya members and supporters pledge allegiance to al Qaeda. And the CIA had assumed that JI was defunct.

The CIA assumed that this al Qaeda terrorist arm was no longer in operation. One CIA source even said that Jama Islamiya came out of the grave to hit these two hotels. In a classic mistake of Western allegiance, because the group had been silent, because the proverbial head of the snake had once been removed, the CIA thought the group to be dead. They thought cobra, they should always be thinking hydra.

Cutting off the head - in this case either arresting or killing many JI leaders, undoubtedly did slow down the organization, but it did not kill it. It allowed Jama Islamiya to morph and to grow and to evolve all while under the radar of Western intelligence. Western intelligence, in an act of benign neglect brought on by ignorance and self aggrandizement in essence helped Jama Islamiya carry out this devastating act of terror.

As vivid and romantic and compelling as visions of modern day security operative Sir Galahads killing the snake may be, only Hercules can slay the hydra. Killing and arresting terrorist leaders is the easy part, ridding Indonesia of terror is the difficult part, eradicating terror is a constant battle.

What is also so fascinating about the recent attack is that a significant dimension of the story and the motivation of the terrorists was not played out in American media.

Luxury hotels are obvious targets, Western travelers enjoy luxury hotels around the world. Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world. Indonesia is therefore the perfect place for extremists to ply their trade. But we in the United States live in a bubble and see the world only through our own eyes.

This attack was intended to cause a bigger bang for the terrorist world than it actually did cause. What was missing from media coverage of the bombing was the information that the famed Manchester United team was scheduled to be staying at the Ritz Hotel, there to play against the national team of Indonesia. Manchester United is one of the greatest teams in the soccer world and soccer greatly eclipses all other team sports everywhere in the world outside the United States.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world follow soccer, hundreds of millions. There's more. Manchester United is owned by an American Jew, a businessman named Malcolm Glazer.

Terrorists attack symbols. These terrorists aimed at but missed out on striking two very recognizable symbols - Jewish business and beloved world sports. For the terrorists and terrorist supporters, it was dumb luck that they missed these targets. The rest of the world is grateful.

The world is becoming inured to acts of terror and that is very dangerous. First word of this attack came as reports on twitter. One tweet actually described how, after the attack, people continued to meet and eat in cafes near the site and that scares me.

This attack in Jakarta, perpetrated by Jama Islamiya is an important lesson in the study of terrorist activities. If the security apparatus pays attention it will learn a lot about the bio-rhythm of al Qaeda and al Qaeda splinter groups. The hydra rests, the hydra does not sleep.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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