Archive for Thursday, August 5, 2004

Terror group reportedly planning assassinations

August 5, 2004

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— Shifting tactics, an al-Qaida-linked group that staged the deadliest post-Sept. 11 terror bombing is believed to be planning assassinations of Western and regional leaders in Asia, moving away from large-scale strikes against civilian targets, officials told The Associated Press.

Increasingly isolated and on the run, Jemaah Islamiyah's capabilities have been eroded by dozens of arrests, a shortage of funds and divisions within its leadership.

As a result, the group isn't focusing on coordinated attacks like the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people and the 2003 suicide bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12 people, officials told the AP.

"The threat has been contained, but it is still there and has not been eliminated completely," said Zainal Abidin Zain, director-general of Southeast Asia's U.S.-backed anti-terror center in Malaysia.

Jemaah Islamiyah remains the most dangerous terror group in Southeast Asia. But the Marriott bombing was the last large-scale attack attributed to the group. Some security officials suggest the arrests of key members -- including Hambali, the group's alleged operations chief -- has stripped it of the ability to strike big anytime soon.

Remnants of Jemaah Islamiyah have tried to regroup in Indonesia so they could launch more strikes, a Malaysian government official said on condition of anonymity. But they were hindered by the absence of a strong leader like Hambali, he said.

The Marriott bombing sparked divisions within Jemaah Islamiyah, Indonesian police say.

Key members pushed to abandon attacks on so-called soft targets, saying they're immoral and fail to further their goals of establishing an Islamic state by 2025, police said. They would rather focus on religious indoctrination and building a base throughout the country.

Police have warned that Jemaah Islamiyah, which still has an estimated 2,000 operatives throughout Southeast Asia, is planning attacks to disrupt Indonesia's presidential election Sept. 20.

A senior Indonesian anti-terror official, Ansyaad Mbai, said police were investigating information that Jemaah Islamiyah has shifted to assassination squads.

"The possibility of assassinations squads is very high," he said. "We don't discount it because Jemaah Islamiyah has used it before."

Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for the 2000 car bomb attack on the Jakarta residence of Philippine Ambassador Leonides Caday, which injured the diplomat and killed two others.

Militant groups used assassinations during sectarian violence in Central Sulawesi, which has left 1,000 dead since 1999. In recent months, a Christian priest and Christian prosecutor were among those killed by gunmen.

Western embassy officials are divided over whether assassination squads are in Indonesia, although many embassies incorporated the possibility of assassinations into their security plans after the 9-11 attacks.

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