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U.S. Ties Attack to Terrorists, Warns of Further Violence

October 14, 2002|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The deadly bombing of a nightclub district in Indonesia drew strong condemnation from President Bush on Sunday as the State Department warned that Americans should consider leaving the country because of the threat of more terrorist violence.

Bush sought to tie the bombing, which killed more than 180 people at what was a popular tourist spot on the island of Bali, to worldwide terrorism and called it "a cowardly act designed to create terror and chaos."

"The world must confront this global menace, terrorism," Bush said in a statement. "We must together challenge and defeat the idea that any wanton killing of civilians advances any cause or supports any aspirations. And we must call this despicable act by its rightful name, murder."

Although no group has claimed responsibility, the bombing apparently was the worst terrorist strike in the world since Sept. 11, 2001. It took place on the two-year anniversary of the bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors.

The State Department said the Bali attack "comes on the heels of previous warnings of Americans at risk, and highlights the mounting threat to Americans wherever they are in Indonesia." Americans should "examine the necessity of continuing to remain," it said, and urged them to keep a "low profile."

The department said it was reevaluating its own presence in the archipelago country, which is the world's most populous Islamic nation.

U.S. officials have been warning in recent days that they feared that a reconstituted Al Qaeda -- the worldwide terrorist network believed responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks -- was mounting a new round of terrorist action. On Sunday, officials said they believed this bombing could be part of that new spasm.

This wave of attacks might include last week's bombing of a French supertanker off Yemen, which has been attributed to terrorists, and an attack on U.S. Marines during a military exercise in Kuwait, officials said. The attack in Kuwait killed one Marine and injured another.

Only days ago, an audiotape was circulated in which a senior Al Qaeda official, Ayman Zawahiri, appeared to be trying to incite an imminent wave of terrorist actions.

U.S. officials said evidence has been mounting that the Al Qaeda network is present in Indonesia and has been reaching out to local extremist groups.

"In recent weeks, we have been able to put an end to a year of speculation as to whether Al Qaeda might be in Indonesia, or relocating to Indonesia, or using Indonesia as a base of operations, after the fall of Afghanistan," Ralph Boyce, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, told Associated Press.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on ABC-TV's "This Week" that "this is the beginning of a lot more we're going to see, perhaps in the United States."

One important question is how the attack will play into the debate over whether the United States should invade Iraq.

The White House is likely to argue that the recent attacks prove the U.S. should not wait to deal with the security threats it faces, including Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But those who are skeptical about the campaign against Iraq could point to the attack in Bali as proof that terrorism is the paramount and yet-unfinished threat that the United States should tackle first.

"This event can cut both ways," said Sheldon W. Simon, a specialist in U.S.-Asia security issues at Arizona State University.

Simon said the State Department's warning to Americans to consider leaving Indonesia could displease the Indonesian government by suggesting that the country is unsafe for foreigners. The suggestion could hurt the foreign investment that Indonesia badly needs to continue its economic recovery, he said.

The tourist industry is the third-largest source of foreign currency for Indonesia, which is only beginning to emerge from an economic crisis that began in 1997.

The bombing also puts new pressure on a government that has been in a predicament over how to handle militant domestic groups.

The U.S. and some countries neighboring Indonesia have prodded the government there to take action against figures believed to be connected to Al Qaeda and an associated group, Jemaah Islamiah.

The issue is difficult for the weak government; many Indonesians believe the U.S. has embarked on an anti-Islamic crusade.

Not everyone is convinced Al Qaeda is the prime mover in Indonesia's terrorist activities.

Simon, the U.S.-Asia security expert, said that despite the White House's interest in tying the bombing to Al Qaeda, he does not believe it has been clearly established that the international terrorist network is a major player in Indonesia.

"From my research, I don't think the linkages are clear," he said.

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